Oct 012017
 
 October 1, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Catalunya October 1 2017

 

I’ve seen a lot of videos and photos of the Catalonia attempt to hold a referendum today (Tyler has a “nice” series of them), and what struck me most of all, apart from the senseless violence police forces were seen to engage in, is the lack of violence on the side of protesters.

So when I see the Interior Ministry claim that 11 policemen were injured, That is hard to take serious. Not that the Catalans had no reason to resist or even fight back. That hundreds of protesters, including scores of grandma’s, are injured is obvious from watching the videos. Since rubber bullets were used in large numbers, fatal injuries are quite possible.

Policemen hitting peaceful older ladies till they bleed is shocking, and we are all shocked. Many of us will be surprised too, but we shouldn’t be. Spain is still the land of Franco, and his followers continue to exert great influence in politics, police and military. And it’s not just them: one video from Madrid showed people singing a fascist theme from the Franco era.

 

 

That’s the shape the EU knowingly accepted Spain as a member in, and that shape has hardly changed since. The total silence from Brussels, and from all its capitals, speaks volumes. Belgian PM Michel said earlier today that he doesn’t want to talk about other countries’ politics, and that’s more than I’ve seen anyone else say. It’s of course a piece of gross cowardly nonsense, both Michel’s statement and the silence from all others.

Because this very much concerns the EU. As Julian Assange tweeted “Dear @JunckerEU. Is this “respect for human dignity, freedom and democracy”? Activate article 7 and suspend Spain from the European Union for its clear violation of Article 2.” (Article 7 of the European Union Treaty: “Suspension of any Member State that uses military force on its own population.”) Sure, technically the Guardia Civil is not military, but are Juncker, Michel and above all Merkel really going to try and hide behind that?

Assange also re-tweeted this: “Claude Taylor Breaking: contact with Ecuadorian Govt says they plan on removing Julian Assange from their Embassy in London. Expect his arrest to follow.” Assange’s reaction: “DC based ex-White House claims I’m to be arrested for reporting on Spain’s censorship & arrests in Catalonia. Dirty.”

But that should not be a surprise either. We know from the example of Greece, and the treatment of refugees, what the morals of Europe’s ‘leaders’ are. Their morals are bankrupt. In that sense, they fit in seamlessly with those of Mariano Rajoy’s governing PP party in Spain.

 

 

Still, this is not why people want to be part of the EU. So unless very strong statements come from the various capitals, and very soon, given that they’re already way too late, the EU as a whole will find itself in such a deep crisis it might as well pack its bags and go home. Wherever home may be for these career politicians.

If you’re void of any and all ethics and morals, which is what that silence shouts out very loudly, you can’t lay any claim at all to the right to make decisions for anyone at all. That is true for Rajoy and his party, and it’s just as true for all other deadly silent European leaders.

And this is by no means over, it hasn’t started yet. Here’s a map of close vs open polling stations in Catalonia, via Assange. ‘Nuff said. What will Rajoy’s next move be? Locking up everyone? The entire Catalan governing party that organized the referendum? Make no mistake: the Spanish military have long threatened they would destroy Catalonia before allowing it independence.

 


Catalan polling stations. Green=open. Red=closed

 

Philosopher Anna M. Hennessey, who has lived in both Spain and in Catalonia, put it this way:

Franco was victorious and did not lose his war, as Hitler and Mussolini lost theirs, but this must not mean that we should let the dictator’s toxic ideological infrastructure persist any further into the twenty-first century. Supporting Catalonia is a necessary step in putting an end to fascism in Europe.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia

People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years.

Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime. The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona.

[..] Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.

And so we can see the dream of a united Europe die. At least one that most people will feel comfortable living in. And if you can’t achieve that, why have a union to begin with? Democracy in Europe is dying in Brussels, it’s dying in Greece and the Mediterranean, and it died today in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan locations.

Are all Europeans simply going to sit back and wait till it dies where they live, too? My bet is they will only do that until they no longer see the EU as economically beneficial to them. And as of today, because of Catalunya, economics will no longer be the only consideration. Because Spain will not be thrown out, not even suspended. There will be lots of empty strong words, but not all Europeans are all that stupid.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has called for Rajoy to resign, but she knows as well as anyone that that will not be enough, and it won’t change a thing. Rajoy is merely one representative of a fascist system that is the underbelly of Spain, waiting for its opportunity to raise its ugly head. It’s found that opportunity today, and the whole world is silent. Well, the ‘leaders’ are.

 

And while we’re talking disaster, I can’t help myself from briefly addressing Puerto Rico. The anti-Trump echo chamber is louder than ever, and it’s getting absurd. I can’t see what part of it is Trump’s doing, and what is due to other sources, but it simply seems not true that help is not moving forward. In a destruction as complete as Puerto Rico, there are limits to what can be done in a limited amount of time.

All the criticism of Trump at some point becomes criticism of other people involved as well. The mayor of San Juan gets lauded as a hero in certain circles, but is she really? How about the US military, how about FEMA? They look to be doing a good job, and FEMA seems to have learned a lot from Katrina 12 years ago.

Again, I don’t know how much of that is Trump, but if I may be cynical, he’s smart enough to know how his response could or would be used against him, so he would be really thick if he let the situation get worse than it should be. Earlier today Cate Long, an expert on Puerto Rico due to its debt fiasco, and hence with a lot of contacts there, tweeted:

“Federal govt has leapfrogged Puerto Rico govt & made direct connection with 78 municipalities. Central to powerful supply chain & relief.”

While the Huffington Post, not exactly Trump cheerleaders, posted this:

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution”

Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million.

Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.

[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”

Maybe it’s time to exit your echo chamber?

 

 

Oct 012017
 
 October 1, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 1 2017


Edward Hopper Nighthawks 1942

 

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HP)
When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)
David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)
The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents
The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)
Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)
Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)
S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)
China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)
Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

 

 

An appeal from Puerto Rico via Nicole:

Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!

Mara Nieves
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
00901-0931

 

 

Just dumping another 10,000 people on the island is not the (whole) answer. Too many people criticize too easily. Time to leave the echo chamber. If HuffPo can do it, so can you.

“As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HuffPo)

Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million. Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.

“I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.” “The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators. They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle. Put another way, 80% of truck drivers do not show up to work, and yet again, it’s important to understand why. “There should be zero blame on the drivers. They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication. The will of the people of Puerto Rico is off the charts. The truck drivers have families to take care of, many of them have no food or water. They have to take care of their family’s needs before they go off to work, and once they do go, they can’t call home,” explains Col. Valle.

[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”

Read more …

The footage this morning from Catalonia is horrifying.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)

People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years. Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime.

The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona. Over the past week, Spain’s military body, the Guardia Civil, has forcibly taken control of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s own police force. It has also detained government officials, closed multiple websites, and ordered seven hundred Catalan mayors to appear in court. Ominously, Spanish police from all over the country have traveled up to Barcelona or are en route to the Catalan capital, holing up in three giant cruise ships, two anchored in the city’s port, one in the port of nearby Tarragona. They are doing this at a time when Spain is on high alert for terrorist attacks, removing their police forces from numerous regions that could be in danger of attack, including Madrid, in preparation to stop Catalan people from putting pieces of paper into voting boxes.

Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.

Read more …

No tax reform, says Stockman.

David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)

David Stockman is warning about the Trump administration’s tax overhaul plan, Federal Reserve policy, saying they could play into a severe stock market sell-off. Stockman, the Reagan administration’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, isn’t stepping away from his thesis that the 8 1/2-year-old rally is in serious danger. “There is a correction every seven to eight years, and they tend to be anywhere from 40 to 70%,” Stockman said recently on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “If you have to work for a living, get out of the casino because it’s a dangerous place.” He’s made similar calls, but they haven’t materialized. In June, Stockman told CNBC the S&P 500 could easily fall to 1,600, which at the time represented a 34% drop. This week, the index was trading at record levels above 2,500. Stockman puts a big portion of the blame on the Federal Reserve, and its ultra-loose monetary policy.

“This is a bubble created by the Fed,” he said. “We’re heading for higher yields. We are heading for a huge reset of pricing in the risk markets that’s been based on ultra-cheap yields that the central banks of the world created that are now going to go away because they’re telling you that they’re done.” At the height of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the S&P 500 Index plummeted as much as 58%. It happened in March 2009. “This market at 24 times GAAP earnings, 21 times operating earnings, 100 months into a business expansion with the kind of troubles you have in Washington, central banks [are] going to the sidelines,” he said. “There’s very little reward, and there’s a heck of a lot of risk.” Stockman argued that President Donald Trump’s business-friendly tax reform bill, which was unveiled Wednesday, won’t prevent a damaging sell-off.

He previously said Wall Street is “delusional” for believing it will even be passed. “This is a fiscal disaster that when they [Wall Street] begin to look at it, they’ll see it’s not even remotely paid for. This bill will go down for the count,” said Stockman. He said White House economic advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “totally failed to provide any detail, any leadership, any plan. Both of them ought to be fired because they let down the president in a major, major way.” And, it’s not just Washington dysfunction and Fed policy that could ultimately make Stockman’s long-held bearish prediction a reality. He says there will be a catalyst, but it’s unknown exactly what it will be. “You get a black swan in the old days, or maybe you get an orange swan now, the one in the Oval Office who can’t seem to stop tweeting and distracting the whole process from accomplishing anything,” Stockman said of President Donald Trump.

Read more …

Koyaanisqatsi. “..capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.”

The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly. This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet regardless of the political or economic environment.

Given the gravity of the consequences of this trend, mainstream economists have been struggling to explain it, as a means of eventually reversing it. The explanations include automation, globalization/offshoring, the high cost of housing, a decline of corporate competition (i.e. the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies), a failure of our educational complex to keep pace, stagnating gains in productivity, and so on. Each of these dynamics may well exacerbate the trend, but they all dodge the dominant driver of wage stagnation and rise income-wealth inequality: our economy is optimized for financialization, not labor/earned income. What does our economy is optimized for financialization mean? It means that capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.

Financialization funnels the economy’s rewards to those with access to opaque financial processes and information flows, cheap central bank credit and private banking leverage. Together, these enable financiers and corporations to get the borrowed capital needed to acquire and consolidate the productive assets of the economy, and commoditize those productive assets, i.e. turn them into financial instruments that can be bought and sold on the global marketplace. Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. Meanwhile, the official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.

In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation. But in an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing. There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the lion’s share of the national income and wealth.

Read more …

“Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there.”

The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)

Americans carry on by accumulating debt and becoming debt slaves. Many can only make the minimum payment on their credit card and thus accumulate debt. The Federal Reserve’s policy has exploded the prices of financial assets. The result is that the bulk of the population lacks discretionary income, and those with financial assets are wealthy until values adjust to reality. As an economist I cannot identify in history any economy whose affairs have been so badly managed and prospects so severely damaged as the economy of the United States of America. In the short/intermediate run policies that damage the prospects for the American work force benefit what is called the One Percent as jobs offshoring reduces corporate costs and financialization transfers remaining discretionary income in interest and fees to the financial sector.

But as consumer discretionary incomes disappear and debt burdens rise, aggregate demand falters, and there is nothing left to drive the economy. What we are witnessing in the United States is the first country to reverse the development process and to go backward by giving up industry, manufacturing, and tradable professional skill jobs. The labor force is becoming Third World with lowly paid domestic service jobs taking the place of high-productivity, high-value added jobs. The initial response was to put wives and mothers into the work force, but now even many two-earner families experience stagnant or falling material living standards. New university graduates are faced with substantial debts without jobs capable of producing sufficient income to pay off the debts.

Now the US is on a course of travelling backward at a faster rate. Robots are to take over more and more jobs, displacing more people. Robots don’t buy houses, furniture, appliances, cars, clothes, food, entertainment, medical services, etc. Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there. Consumer spending simply dries up, so who purcheses the goods and services supplied by robots? To find such important considerations absent in public debate suggests that the United States will continue on the country’s de-industrialization, de-manufacturing trajectory.

Read more …

Tricks to keep credit flowing.

Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)

“Let’s face it, 143 million frauds won’t be perpetrated right away; it will take some time to filter through,” Steve Bowman, chief credit and risk officer at GM Financial, the auto-lending subsidiary of General Motors, told Reuters. He was talking about the consequences of the Equifax hack during which the most crucial personal data, including Social Security numbers, of 143 million American consumers along with equivalent data of Canadian and British consumers, had been stolen. These consumers have all at once become very vulnerable to all kinds of fraud, including identity theft – where a fraudster borrows money in their name. The day Equifax disclosed the hack, I urged affected consumers to put a credit freeze on their credit data at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — to protect themselves against these frauds.

Soon, the largest media outlets and state attorneys general urged consumers to do the same thing. Financial advisors are recommending it. Even Wells Fargo jumped on the credit freeze bandwagon. As a result, consumers have flooded the websites of the three credit bureaus to request credit freezes in such numbers that the sites slowed down, timed out, or went down entirely for periods of time. This credit freeze frenzy is scaring the credit industry – not just the credit bureaus, but also lenders and companies that rely on easy credit to sell their wares, such as automakers and department stores with instant credit cards. With a credit freeze in place, those consumers cannot be approved for new credit until they lift the credit freeze, which can take up to three business days. The time and extra hoops to jump through before applying for a new loan might deter consumers from buying that car at the spur of the moment.

No one knows how this is going to turn out – and how it will impact the debt-based consumer economy. But fears are mounting. If just 10% of 324 million folks in the US put a credit freeze on their data, the credit industry will feel the impact painfully. Hence the efforts to contain the fallout. On Wednesday, an apology by the interim CEO of Equifax, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. – he succeeded CEO Richard Smith, who’d been sacked – concluded with tidbits of a service Equifax is hoping to roll out by January 31. It would allow “all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data.” It would allow them to “easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files.” This is going to be “simple,” and “free for life.”

This “credit lock” or whatever Equifax wants to call it is not a “credit freeze.” TransUnion is offering a similar service. Credit freezes are covered by state law, and credit bureaus have to conform to state law. With these “credit locks” credit bureaus can do whatever they want to, and consumers will have to read the fine print to figure out what that is and how well a “credit lock” will protect them. But those credit locks offer the credit industry a huge advantage over a credit freeze: They can be designed to be lifted instantly. And this is a sign of how frazzled the credit industry, including the lenders, are becoming, about the credit freezes.

Read more …

Interesting methodology.

Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)

Hong Kong is the economy most at risk of suffering a financial crisis, with China the second most vulnerable, according to the latest update of an early warning system devised by Nomura. The findings don’t mean there will be a crisis. “It’s not a purely scientific approach that is very precise,” Singapore-based analyst Rob Subbaraman said by phone on Friday. “It doesn’t mean that indicators are always accurate or that because they have worked in the past they will work in the future.” Subbaraman developed the system along with fellow analyst Michael Loo using data going back to the early 1990s. The findings show that emerging markets are more prone than developed markets, and that Asia ex-Japan is the region that is most at risk.

The analysts selected five indicators that flash a signal of a financial crisis happening in the next 12 quarters when they breach set thresholds:
* Corporate and household credit to GDP
* The corporate and household debt-service ratio
* The real effective exchange rate
* Real — or adjusted for inflation — property prices
* Real equity prices

The latest update covers the 12 quarters up to and including the first three months of this year. As there are five indicators, each of the countries studied can have a maximum of 60 signals. Hong Kong has the most signals, 52 — higher than during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. China’s total fell to 40 from 41 in the previous update that covered the period up to the fourth quarter of 2016. “Hong Kong looks to be well in the danger zone,” Subbaraman and Loo wrote in the note. They described the decline in China’s total — the first drop since its number of flashing indicators started a steep ascent from zero in the first quarter of 2013 — as encouraging. “Nonetheless, China is still in the danger zone and without further efforts to drain its credit and property excesses, it will be difficult to arrest the trend slowdown in growth.”

Read more …

Chinese reality. Shadow banks and local government financing vehicles.

S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)

China’s total debt could rise 77% to $46 trillion by 2021, and its push to rein in heavy corporate borrowing has had “only tentative results so far,” S&P Global Ratings said. While the pace of debt expansion is slowing, it still exceeds economic growth, implying that high credit risks could still “incrementally increase,” the rating company said in a report Friday. “Recent intensification of government efforts to rein in corporate leverage could stabilize the trend of financial risks over the next few years,” credit analyst Christopher Lee wrote. “But we still foresee that credit growth will remain at levels that will gradually increase financial stress.” S&P last week cut China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time since 1999, citing the risks from soaring debt, and revised its outlook to stable from negative.

The Finance Ministry responded that the analysis ignores the country’s sound economic fundamentals and that the government is fully capable of maintaining financial stability. In a separate report Friday, S&P said China’s push to rein in corporate borrowing likely hasn’t produced lasting results because it lacks specific targets and time frames for cuts. Corporate debt, including local government financing vehicles, rose 5% last year to $14.5 trillion and is the highest among large economies at 134% of GDP, S&P said. State-owned enterprises are the heaviest borrowers, S&P said, adding that a focus on maintaining stability contributes to cautious policy making and a bias toward a status quo that prioritizes economic growth.

SOEs produce a fifth of economic output while taking out 40% of the bank loans, and they’re less profitable than private counterparts with double the overall debt leverage ratio, S&P said. “Without bold actions, China’s corporate deleveraging aims won’t be met in the next one to two years,” Lee wrote. “China allows moral hazards to persist by providing implicit or even direct support to highly indebted SOEs.

Read more …

Caution to the wind!

China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)

China’s central bank on Saturday cut the amount of cash that some banks must hold as reserves for the first time since February 2016 in a bid to encourage more lending to struggling smaller firms and energize its lackluster private sector. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website that it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for some banks that meet certain requirements for lending to small business and the agricultural sector. The PBOC said the move was made to support the development of “inclusive” financial services. The reserve requirement rate will be cut a further 50 bps to 150 bps from the benchmark RRR rate for banks that meet certain requirements for lending to the targeted sectors, the PBOC said. China’s cabinet had in late September flagged a possible move, saying the government will take a number of measures, including tax exemptions and targeted reserve requirement ratio cuts to encourage banks to support small businesses.

Read more …

Slow death.

Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

The Fukushima nuclear power plant may have been leaking radioactive water since April, its owner has admitted. Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Thursday that a problem with monitoring equipment means it can’t be sure if radiation-contaminated water leaked from the reactor buildings damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster which was sparked by an earthquake and tsunami, the Japan Times reports. The company said there were errors on the settings of six indicators monitoring groundwater levels of wells around reactor buildings 1-4 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power station. The indicators weren’t showing accurate water levels, and the actual levels were about 70 centimeters lower than that which the equipment showed. In May, groundwater at one of the wells sank below the contaminated water inside, NHK reports, which possibly caused the radioactive water to leak into the soil.

The company said it is investigating, and that no abnormal increase of radioactivity has shown up in samples. The problem with the six wells in question was discovered this week when the company was preparing another well nearby. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred when three of the plant’s reactors experienced fuel meltdowns and three units were damaged by hydrogen explosions as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. TEPCO has kept groundwater levels in wells higher than the contaminated water levels inside the plant, usually a meter higher. It also installed water-level indicators, which have now been revealed to be inaccurate. Last week, the company was ordered to pay damages of 376 million yen ($3.36 million) to 42 plaintiffs for the nuclear disaster in the second case a court has which has seen rulings against the company.

The suit, one of about 30 class actions brought against the plant, was brought by residents forced to flee their homes when three reactor cores melted, knocking off the cooling systems and sending radioactive material into the air. The case examined whether the government and TEPCO could have foreseen the tsunami. A government earthquake assessment made public in 2002 predicted a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake affecting the area within 30 years. The 2011 quake was a magnitude 9. The case argued that the disaster was preventable as emergency generators could have been placed at a location higher than the plant, which stands 10 meters above sea level. The court found the state wasn’t liable, but another case in March found both TEPCO and the government liable.

Read more …

Sep 302017
 
 September 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Boulevard de Clichy, Paris 1887

 

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)
Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)
Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)
Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)
Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)
ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)
VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)
Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)
Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)
The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)
Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)
Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

 

 

The White House should consult with Stockman. He’s been there. This is going nowhere good. “..after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them..”

Trump’s 1,500-word Airball (Stockman)

The Donald’s strong point isn’t his grasp of policy detail. The nine page bare-bones outline released yesterday is nothing more than an aspirational air ball that lacks virtually every policy detail needed to assess its impact and to price out its cost. It promises to shrink the code to three rates (12%, 25%, 35%), for example. But it doesn’t say boo about where the brackets begin and end compared to current law. Needless to say, a taxpayer with $50,000 of taxable income who is on the 15% marginal bracket today might wish to know whether he is in the new 12% or the new 25% bracket proposed by the White House. After all, it could change his tax bill by several thousand dollars. Similarly, to help pay for upwards of $6 trillion of tax cuts over the next decade, it proposes to eliminate “most” itemized deductions. These “payfors” would in theory increase revenues by about $3 trillion.

Then again, the plan explicitly excludes the two biggest deductions – the charitable deduction and mortgage deduction – which together account for $1.3 trillion of that total. And it doesn’t name a single item among the hundreds of deductions that account for another $1 trillion of current law revenue loss. They’re just mystery meat to be stealthily extracted during committee meetings after Congressman have run the gauntlet of lobbyists prowling the halls outside. Stated differently, after nine months of work these geniuses have come up with $6 trillion of easy to propose tax rate cuts and virtually no plan whatsoever to pay for them. In fact, this latest nine pages of puffery contains just 1,500 words – including obligatory quotes from the Donald and page titles. I hate to get picky, but the Donald’s team has been on the job for 250 days now. And all they came up with amounts to just three words each per day in office.

Read more …

Blaming Puerto Rico on Trump as well is cheap and easy. The Jones Act must go, but Congress has left it intact. So have successive presidents.

Puerto Rico Supply Failure Stops Food, Water Reaching Desperate Residents (G.)

Nine days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, thousands of containers of food, water and medicine are stuck in ports and warehouses on the island, as logistical problems continue to stop desperately needed supplies from reaching millions of Americans. In many parts of the US territory, food, medicine and drinking water are scarce, and amid a growing humanitarian crisis, local researchers have suggested the death toll could be much higher than the 16 deaths reported so far. On Thursday, the White House temporarily waived the Jones Act – the 1920 legislation which had prevented foreign ships from delivering supplies from US ports to Puerto Rico. But the breakdown of the island’s supply chain has left many concerned that the move will not be enough to get goods to the people who need them most.

Yennifer Álvarez, a spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s governor, said about 9,500 shipping containers filled with cargo were at the port of San Juan on Thursday morning as the government struggled to find truckers who could deliver supplies across the island. The delivery issue is aggravated by an intense shortage of gasoline. About half of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 gas stations are out of action; at those that are open, people have been queuing for up to nine hours to buy fuel for vehicles or the generators which have become essential since the island is still without electricity. Rafael Álvarez, vice-president of Méndez & Co, a food distribution company based in San Juan, said he was worried that if fuel was not efficiently distributed soon, people might get desperate. “I really hope things are worse today than they are going to be tomorrow,” he said.

“People are getting very anxious with the heat and the lack of easily accessible drinkable water.” Because of Puerto Rico’s crippling economic crisis, few people had the money to afford more than a week’s worth of emergency supplies, said Alvarez. But if fuel was readily available, Alvarez said, goods could be efficiently delivered around the island and generators would reliably function, resolving many of the territory’s most pressing concerns. Alvarez’s warehouse is at 100% capacity with shelf-stable products including cereals, granola bars and pasta sauce. Yet although the goods are ready to move to local grocery stores, only around 25% of his normal distribution fleet is available, because of the shortage of fuel or damage inflicted by the storm. And few stores are open because they need diesel to power their generators.

“The food industry is really intact except for diesel fuel,” Alvarez said. “We need diesel fuel to operate.” Federal and state officials have said there is enough diesel on the island, but it too has been difficult to distribute. “You know, the gas and fuel issue is not a matter of how much do we have – it’s a matter of how we can distribute it,” Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, told NPR.

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“And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%!”

Abenomics: Bat-Shit-Crazy (Muir)

Between 1999 and 2012, the Bank of Japan increased their balance sheet threefold, raising it from 10% of GDP to 30%. Many a pundit screamed about Japan’s irresponsible monetary policy, but then the 2008 Great Financial Crisis hit, and suddenly the BoJ’s policies didn’t seem that extreme. The Fed embarked on a massive quantitative easing program, followed by most of the rest of the developed world. Next thing you knew, the Bank of Japan’s bloated balance sheet seemed like just one of many. Post GFC, the rate at which these other Central Banks were expanding their balance sheet put extreme stress on the Japanese economy as the BoJ’s relatively tame quantitative easing policy was overwhelmed by the rest of the world. Global deflation was exported to Japan. And just when things couldn’t get worse, Japan was hit by the tsunami/nuclear disaster.

Paradoxically, this caused a spike in the USDJPY rate down to 75, with the Yen hitting an all-time high value against the US dollar. This proved the final straw for the Japanese people, and Prime Minister Abe was elected on a platform of breaking the back of deflation through innovative extreme policies. And just like that, Abeconomics was born. Since then the Bank of Japan balance sheet has swelled from 30% of GDP to 95%! It’s too easy to take this for granted. The blue tickets just seem to keep coming, and coming, and coming. Pretty soon, it all seems so normal. But it isn’t. Not even close. This is bat-shit-crazy monetary expansion. Forget about arguing whether it is appropriate or needed. It doesn’t matter. The markets don’t give a hoot about your opinion. Nor does the BoJ. Heck, they barely even care what Yellen or Trump thinks.

They are going to do what they think best for their people, and that means inflating the shit out of their currency. What I find amazing is how complacent the markets have become about all of this. Sure when Abeconomics first came to pass there were tons of worrisome hedge fund presentations about the inevitability of disaster. But since then Kyle Bass and all the other Japan skeptics have moved on to China, or to the most recent hedge-fund-herding-theme-of-the-day. Yet at one point a few years back a reporter asked Kyle if he could put on one trade for the next decade and couldn’t touch it, what would it be? Bass answered gold denominated in Yen. I have this sneaking suspicion our favourite Texas hedge fund manager’s call was way more prescient than even he imagines (I just hope Kyle hasn’t taken it all off to bet on the China collapse.)

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At the very least the topic warrants a serious discussion. Just saying Stephanie’s crazy is not that.

Congress Can Give Every American A Pony (Kelton)

In her new book, Hillary Clinton mocks Sen. Bernie Sanders’ populist agenda. BERNIE: I think America should get a pony. HILLARY: How will you pay for the pony? You might find Clinton’s question intuitively reasonable. If you promise to fight for big things, then you should draw a detailed road map to the treasure chest that will fund them all. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. But what if I told you that your intuition was all wrong? What if it turned out that the government really could give everyone a pony — and a chicken and car? That is, so long as we could breed enough ponies and chickens and manufacture enough cars. The cars and the food have to come from somewhere; the money is conjured out of thin air, more or less.

When Clinton asks where the money will come from, she’s ordering the government’s fiscal operations like so:
1. Government collects money from us in the form of taxes (T)
2. Government figures out how much it wants to spend and then borrows any additional money it needs (B)
3. Government spends the money it has collected (S)

Since none of us learned any differently, most of us accept the idea that taxes and borrowing precede spending – TABS. And because the government has to “find the money” before it can spend in this sequence, everyone wants to know who’s picking up the tab. There’s just one catch. The big secret in Washington is that the federal government abandoned TABS back when it dropped the gold standard. Here’s how things really work:
1. Congress approves the spending and the money gets spent (S)
2. Government collects some of that money in the form of taxes (T)
3. If 1 > 2, Treasury allows the difference to be swapped for government bonds (B)

In other words, the government spends money and then collects some money back as people pay their taxes and buy bonds. Spending precedes taxing and borrowing – STAB. It takes votes and vocal interest groups, not tax revenue, to start the ball rolling. If you need proof that STAB is the law of the land, look no further than the Senate’s recent $700-billion defense authorization. Without raising a dime from the rest of us, the Senate quietly approved an $80-billion annual increase, or more than enough money to make 4-year public colleges and universities tuition-free. And just where did the government get the money to do that? It authorized it into existence.

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The future inside all housing bubbles. And there are more of those than anyone acknowledges.

Homeowners Face Double Whammy Of Interest Rates And Slumped Market (Ind.)

Homeowners are facing a twin blow of increased mortgage payments and a slowing housing market, with London prices falling for the first time in eight years. Across the UK the average price of a home increased at its slowest slowest pace in more than four years in September, Nationwide said on Friday. The news came shortly after Bank of England governor Mark Carney gave his clearest signal yet that the central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee would raise its benchmark interest rate from 0.25%. “What we have said, that if the economy continues on the track that it’s been on, and all indications are that it is, in the relatively near term we can expect that interest rates would increase somewhat,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, on Friday. A rate hike would mean more expensive home loans for homeowners who have grown used to ultra-low interest rates.

The MPC meets on 2 November to make its decision and a rate rise would be the first in more than a decade. Any increase is expected to be small but would place additional strain on households already stretched amid higher inflation and weak wage growth. A 0.25% rise would mean a person with a £200,000 mortgage on the average UK variable rate of 4.6% would pay an extra £28.72 per month. An increase of 1% would add an extra £117.10 to payments, though this scenario is not expected to become a reality in the short term. Higher payments could prove painful for homeowners, especially as the housing market begins to stutter. London house prices fell 0.6% in the year to September, Nationwide said – the first annual drop since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009. It was the first time since 2005 that London was the worst performing region in the country.

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Centralization is dead.

ECB Wants to Weed Out Smaller Banks to Cut Competition (DQ)

The biggest financial problem in Europe these days is that it is “over-banked,” according to Daniele Nouy, Chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board, and thus in charge of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which regulates the largest 130 European banks. In a speech bizarrely titled “Too Much of a Good Thing: The Need for Consolidation in the European Banking Sector,” Nouy blamed fierce competition for squeezing profits for many of Europe’s banks while steadfastly ignoring the much larger role in the profit squeeze played by the ECB’s negative-interest-rate policy. ECB President Mario Draghi agrees. The profits of the largest 10 European banks rose by only 5% in the first half of 2017, compared to 19% for the US banks, which benefited from higher interest rates, stronger capital markets, better capitalization, and larger market shares, according to a new report by Ernst and Young.

In its latest annual health check of European banks, Bain Capital found that 31 institutions, or 28% of the 111 financial institutions they assessed, are in the “high-risk” quadrant. Location seemed to be a far more important factor than size. Banks in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain have become “a breed apart in continued distress,” the report said, adding: “Every single bank that has failed in the past decade and for which there are financial statements available…fell into this quadrant before their demise.” Scandinavian, Belgian, and Dutch banks figured prominently among the 38% of the banks that attained the strongest position, outperforming on virtually all financial indicators. By contrast, many German and UK banks fell into the second category, that of “weaker business model.” In fact, virtually all the large German names fit into this category as their profitability and efficiency languish at levels comparable with their Greek counterparts.

They include Deutsche Bank, which in the midst of its third revamp in so many years, just reported its worst revenues in three and a half years. Deutsche Bank is far from alone. The dismal reality is that nine long years after the global financial crisis began, many systemic European banks pose as big a risk to the financial system, if not bigger, as they did back then. The only major difference is that now they’re hooked on Draghi’s myriad monetary welfare schemes (LTRO, TLTRO I and II…), which have managed to keep them afloat even as the ECB’s monetary policy puts a massive squeeze on their lending margins by driving interest rates to unfathomably low levels. But rather than raising interest rates — a scary thought given how major Eurozone economies like Italy and Spain have come to depend on QE to keep servicing their public debt — the ECB plans to reduce competition in the banking sector by weeding out smaller banks.

It’s a process that is already well under way, as Nouy explained in her speech: “Since 2008, the number of banks in the euro area has declined by about 20%, to around 5,000. And the number of bank employees has fallen by about 300,000, to 1.9 million. Total assets of the euro area banking sector peaked in 2012 at about 340% of GDP. Since then, they have fallen back to about 280% of GDP.” But this is not about shrinking the size of the banking sector; it’s about shrinking the number of players within it and in the process creating trans-European banking giants. To achieve that goal, all Europe needs are “brave banks” that are willing to conquer new territory: “Cross-border mergers would do more than just help the banking sector to shrink. They would also deepen integration. And this would take us closer to our goal of a truly European banking sector.”

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Time for Merkel to stop cozying up to carmakers.

VW’s Dieselgate Bill Hits $30 Billion After Another Charge (R.)

Volkswagenis taking another $3 billion charge to fix diesel engines in the United States, lifting the total bill for its emissions test cheating scandal to around $30 billion. Shares in the German carmaker fell as much as 3% on Friday, as traders and analysts expressed dismay the company was still booking charges two years after the scandal broke. “This is yet another unexpected and unwelcome announcement from VW, not only from an earnings and cash flow perspective but also with respect to the credibility of management,” said Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst. Europe’s biggest automaker admitted in September 2015 it had used illegal software to cheat U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its 80 year history. Before Friday, it had set aside 22.6 billion euros ($26.7 billion) to cover costs such as fines and vehicle refits.

On Friday, it said hardware fixes were proving tougher than expected, as it booked an additional 2.5 billion euro provision. “We have to do more with the hardware,” a VW spokesman said, adding U.S. customers were having to wait longer for their cars to be repaired. The news relates to the program to buy back or fix up to 475,000 2 liter diesel cars. In Europe, where only a software update is required for the 8.5 million affected cars, besides a minor component integration for about 3 million of those, fixes are running smoothly, the spokesman added. The additional provision will be reflected in third-quarter results due on Oct. 27, VW said. Ellinghorst, who has an “outperform” rating on VW shares, expects the company to report third-quarter group earnings before tax and interest of €4.04 billion. “You have to ask if this is a bottomless pit,” said one Frankfurt-based trader of the U.S. charges.

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Something needs to stop it.

Could Ryanair’s ‘Pilotgate’ Spell The End Of Cheap Flights? (Ind.)

Ryanair has apologised to 800,000 passengers for cancelling their flights because of a pilot shortage, and then misleading them about their rights. But an obligation to meet travellers’ out-of-pocket expenses has raised fears that airlines’ costs – and fares – could soar because of demands for recompense. Airlines who cancel flights appear to have an open-ended liability for out-of-pocket expenses, which could include anything from tickets for an FC Barcelona Champions’ League football match to lost wages. The payments are additional to EU requirements to cover hotel rooms and meals connected with flight disruption. Costs could feed through to more expensive tickets – which, with supply reduced because of mass cancellations by Ryanair, are already rising.

[..] The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had demanded a statement from Ryanair explaining its obligations under European passengers’ rights rules. The airline complied shortly before the 5pm deadline. The statement explains in unprecedented detail the options open to passengers whose flights are cancelled: a Ryanair flight, if one is available on the same route on the same or next day; a Ryanair flight from a nearby airport; a flight on one of Ryanair’s seven “disruption partner airlines”, including easyJet, Jet2, Aer Lingus and Norwegian; or “comparable alternative transport” by air, rail or road. Europe’s biggest budget airline also promises to “reimburse any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by customers as a result of these flight cancellations”.

Passengers who have already accepted a refund or alternative Ryanair flight are able to reconsider, while those who have booked on a rival airline can claim the difference in fare paid. The improved offer to passengers could double Ryanair’s previous estimate of €50m in extra costs because of the debacle. This represents less than 5% of its expected full-year profit. But the obligation to refund “any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses” could add significantly more. “This could open the floodgates to claims,” said one senior aviation executive.

[..] The move came two weeks after Ryanair began to cancel hundreds of flights at very short notice, having “messed up” rostering of pilots. It initially cancelled a tranche of 2,100 departures until the end of October, saying that its winter programme would be unaffected. But on 27 September Ryanair said it would ground 25 of its jets this winter – representing one-16th of its fleet – and cut 18,000 flights from the schedules. By giving more than two weeks’ notice of cancellations, the airline avoided the obligation to pay cash compensation. Affected passengers were emailed with two options: a refund, or re-booking on a different Ryanair flight. The option to fly on a rival airline at Ryanair’s expense was not mentioned – an omission that infuriated the CAA’s chief executive, Andrew Haines.

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“..Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia..”

Citizens United No More (Jim Kunstler)

I have an idea for the political party out of power, the Democrats, sunk in its special Okefenokee Swamp of identity politics and Russia paranoia: make an effort to legislate the Citizens United calamity out of existence. Who knows, a handful of Republicans may be shamed into going along with it. [..] corporations have not always been what they are deemed to be today. They evolved with the increasingly complex activities of industrial economies. Along the way — in Great Britain first, actually — they were deemed to exist as the equivalent of legal persons, to establish that the liabilities of the company were separate and distinct from those of its owners. In the USA, forming a corporation usually required an act of legislation until the late 19th century.

After that, they merely had to register with the states. Then congress had to sort out the additional problems of giant “trusts” and holding companies (hence, anti-trust laws, now generally ignored). In short, the definition of what a corporation is and what it has a right to do is in a pretty constant state of change as economies evolve. [..] This homework assignment should be given to the Democratic members of congress, since they are otherwise preoccupied only with hunting for Russian gremlins and discovering new sexual abnormalities to protect and defend.

The crux of the argument is that corporations cannot be said to be entirely and altogether the equivalent of persons for all legal purposes. In law, corporations have duties, obligations, and responsibilities to their shareholders first, and only after that to the public interest or the common good, and only then by pretty strict legal prescription. It may be assumed that the interests of corporations and their shareholders are in opposition to, and in conflict with, the public interest. And insofar as elections are fundamentally matters of the public interest, corporations must be prohibited from efforts to influence the outcome of elections.

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“.. we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news..”

The Slimy Business of Russia-gate (Robert Parry)

The “Field of Dreams” slogan for America’s NGOs should be: “If you pay for it, we will come.” And right now, tens of millions of dollars are flowing to non-governmental organizations if they will buttress the thesis of Russian “meddling” in the U.S. democratic process no matter how sloppy the “research” or how absurd the “findings.” And, if you think the pillars of the U.S. mainstream media – The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and others – will apply some quality controls, you haven’t been paying attention for the past year or so. The MSM is just as unethical as the NGOs are. So, we are now in a phase of Russia-gate in which NGO “scholars” produce deeply biased reports and their nonsense is treated as front-page news and items for serious discussion across the MSM.

Yet, there’s even an implicit confession about how pathetic some of this “scholarship” is in the hazy phrasing that gets applied to the “findings,” although the weasel words will slip past most unsuspecting Americans and will be dropped for more definitive language when the narrative is summarized in the next day’s newspaper or in a cable-news “crawl.” For example, a Times front-page story on Thursday reported that “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia seized on both sides of the [NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem] issue with hashtags, such as #boycottnfl, #standforouranthem and #takeaknee.” The story, which fits neatly into the current U.S. propaganda meme that the Russian government somehow is undermining American democracy by stirring up dissent inside the U.S., quickly spread to other news outlets and became the latest “proof” of a Russian “war” against America.

However, before we empty the nuclear silos and exterminate life on the planet, we might take a second to look at the Times phrasing: “a network of Twitter accounts suspected of links to Russia.” The vague wording doesn’t even say the Russian government was involved but rather presents an unsupported claim that some Twitter accounts are “suspected” of being part of some “network” and that this “network” may have some ill-defined connection – or “links” – to “Russia,” a country of 144 million people. It’s like the old game of “six degrees of separation” from Kevin Bacon. Yes, perhaps we are all “linked” to Kevin Bacon somehow but that doesn’t prove that we know Kevin Bacon or are part of a Kevin Bacon “network” that is executing a grand conspiracy to sow discontent by taking opposite sides of issues and then tweeting.

Read more …

What will Barcelona look like on Monday morning?

Catalan Government Says Millions Will Turn Out For Referendum (G.)

The Catalan government has laid out its plans for the referendum on independence from Spain, claiming that more than 7,200 people will staff 2,315 polling stations across the region to stage a vote that has triggered the country’s worst territorial crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago. On Friday afternoon, the pro-independence regional government unveiled plastic ballot boxes and predicted that 60% of Catalonia’s 5.3 million eligible voters would head to the polls on Sunday in defiance of the Spanish government, the police and the courts. “Catalans will be able to vote,” said the region’s vice-president, Oriol Junqueras. “Even if someone attacks a polling station, Catalans will still be able to vote.” Junqueras gave no further details but called on people to behave responsibly and to ignore the “provocations of those who want to stop the vote”.

His words were echoed by the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, who told Reuters: “I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist.” On Friday afternoon, a large convoy of tractors driven by Catalan farmers and flying independence flags rolled into Barcelona to show support for the vote and to protest against moves to halt it. Both the Spanish government and the country’s constitutional court have declared the vote illegal. Over the past 10 days, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to stop the referendum, arresting 14 senior Catalan government officials, shutting down referendum websites, and seizing millions of ballot papers. Spain’s interior ministry has deployed thousands of extra police officers to the region and the infrastructure ministry announced on Friday that the airspace over Barcelona would be closed to helicopters and light aircraft until Monday.

Read more …

Nothing new.

Aid Programs Are Designed To Keep Countries In Poverty (Ren.)

The income gap between rich countries and poor countries is not diminishing. It has been increasing dramatically, and not only during colonialism. Since the 1960s, the income gap between north and south has tripled. “There’s something fundamentally wrong and it won’t be changed with a bit of aid here in there,” Hickel says. “We need to fundamentally restructure the global economy and make it fair.” Hickel’s central thesis is that there is nothing natural about poverty. His book examines structurally determined behaviour, designed in fact, to deliver the poverty outcomes we witness around the world. “One of the dominant understandings out there that I seek to question in the book is the idea that rich countries are giving aid to poor countries in any meaningful quantity,” he says.

“In fact there is a lot of aid given – it’s about $130 billion per year transferred from rich countries to poor countries. That’s an enormous amount of money.” Some of the money comes in the form of charity. A lot of it in the form of loans, with debt strings – and conditions – attached. “A lot of the aid that’s given comes with conditions attached that the recipients of the aid have to implement certain economic policies, or have to votes with the donor country in UN agreements and so on,” says Hickel. “There’s no free lunch.” “But even if we assume that there was a free lunch, that $130 billion dollars are really being transferred for free from rich countries the poor countries, even that is misleading because in fact vastly more than that amount flows in the opposite direction – from poor countries to rich countries – for all sorts of reasons.

“The biggest one is probably illicit financial flows, most of which are in the form of tax evasion by major multinational companies operating in the global south, headquartered often in rich countries that are effectively stealing wealth, their profits from global south countries and stashing them away in tax havens because of rules written by the WTO that make this practice possible.” The World Trade Organisation basically governs the rules of global trade, for the most part, centrally. It is a very anti-democratic institution, where the vast majority of bargaining power has long been in the hands of a handful of countries which get to determine rules that end up serving their interests. “That’s one of the reasons that we see these financial flows in such magnitude,” says Hickel.

“These financial flows outstrip the aid budget by a factor of 10. So for every dollar of aid that poor countries receive, they lose 10 dollars to multinational tax havens. Another one is debt service. Poor countries pay $200 billion per year in debt service to banks in rich countries. “And that’s just the interest payments on debts, many of which have been paid-off already many times over, some of which are accumulated by legitimate dictators. That’s a direct cash transfusion from from poor to rich. That outstrips the aid budget by a factor or two.”

Read more …

Sep 272017
 
 September 27, 2017  Posted by at 8:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Edward Hopper Night windows 1928

 

Yellen Concedes Inflation Models Could Be Off “In Some Fundamental Way” (BBG)
Fed’s Beautiful Model in Pictures (Mish)
The Law Strangling Puerto Rico (NYT)
US Housing Market “Unhealthy And Mismatched With Today’s Buyers” (CNBC)
Home Prices, Sales In Beijing Are Falling Fast (BI)
China Still Stocking Up On Metals And Credit – Beige Book (CNBC)
China Tells Entrepreneurs They Must Put Patriotism Over Profit (BBG)
Macron Lays Out Vision For ‘Profound’ Changes In EU (G.)
Uber’s New ‘Good Cop’ Tack Will Face Test in US City Tussles (BBG)
Hedge Fund Paulson & Co Declares War On Poor Gold Mining Returns (R.)
The Case For The 3-Hour Workday (BI)
Spain Deploys Ever More Police To Prevent Catalan Independence Vote (G.)
Banned West Papua Independence Petition Handed To UN (G.)
Zealandia Drilling Reveals Secrets Of Sunken Lost Continent (G.)

 

 

If she knows she’s always wrong, why doesn’t she resign?

Yellen Concedes Inflation Models Could Be Off “In Some Fundamental Way” (BBG)

Janet Yellen still has faith, but she’s open to converting. In a wide-ranging speech on inflation, the Fed chair wrestled with an issue that’s flummoxing policy makers everywhere: Why is inflation not only low, but in some instances going south? At this point in an expansion that’s lasted the better part of a decade and has returned jobless levels to pre-recession levels, leading economic models would ordinarily tell us to expect inflation to rise. Kudos to her for admitting the uncertainty. The question is one of the pre-eminent themes of the modern economic era. It’s perhaps fitting she air the issues not in a political environment like Congress or the Federal Open Market Committee, which calls for decisions, but in what might be her last address to the National Association for Business Economics.

Yellen conceded that some assumptions about how the modern economy works could be wrong. She is not operating on the premise that they are wrong, but she is prepared to entertain the prospect. She did so in a very rational way, and she urged no sharp about-turns in policy. If officials’ understanding of the link between inflation and the labor market and, more broadly, inflation itself, ends up being flawed, then there is an obligation to recalibrate policy. Neither Yellen nor the FOMC are there yet. And to be clear, the committee still believes inflation will again start to edge up and stabilize around the Fed’s 2% target. Under that scenario, a bit more tightening of policy is required. Not a ton, and the steps should be gradual. As they have been.

If the scenario proves off, then think again. As Yellen said in her remarks, a couple of things could be at work in explaining the bad behavior of inflation. For one, it’s not necessarily that the model linking low unemployment with wages and inflation is wrong; it may be that in the post-recession world the jobless level at which inflation kicks in could be lower. (The jobless rate in the U.S. now is 4.4%.) But it’s also plausible that policy makers misunderstand inflation on a more fundamental level. “Our framework for understanding inflation dynamics could be misspecified in some fundamental way, perhaps because our econometric models overlook some factor that will restrain inflation in coming years despite solid labor market conditions,” Yellen said.

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Amen.

Fed’s Beautiful Model in Pictures (Mish)

Pictures say more than words, especially when it comes to Fed hubris. Two pictures make the case.

 

Don’t worry. That the Fed is consistently wrong on growth and inflation is purely transitory.

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“..if the Jones Act did not exist, then neither would the public debt of Puerto Rico.”

The Law Strangling Puerto Rico (NYT)

Hurricane Maria was the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. It left the entire island without electricity, which may take six months to restore. It toppled trees, shattered windows, tore off roofs and turned streets into rivers throughout the island. President Trump declared that “Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated” and issued a federal disaster declaration. But the United States needs to do more. It needs to suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico. After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another.

In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens. Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy. Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer. The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer. Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act.

Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13% higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states. This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest market in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else on the planet. A 2012 report by two University of Puerto Rico economists found that the Jones Act caused a $17 billion loss to the island’s economy from 1990 through 2010. Other studies have estimated the Jones Act’s damage to Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Alaska to be $2.8 billion to $9.8 billion per year. According to all these reports, if the Jones Act did not exist, then neither would the public debt of Puerto Rico.

[..] Food costs twice as much in Puerto Rico as in Florida. Jones Act relief will save many Puerto Ricans — especially children and seniors — from potential starvation. Jones Act relief will also enable islanders to find medicine, especially Canadian pharmaceuticals, at lifesaving rates. And it will give islanders access to international oil markets — crucial for running its electric grid — devoid of a 30% Jones Act markup. And suspending or repealing the law is crucial to the arduous rebuilding process ahead. In one town alone, 70,000 people were evacuated because of a failing dam. Jones Act relief will enable residents to buy materials, rebuild their homes and prevent an explosion of homelessness.

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Either prices fall or sales do. People can’t afford homes anymore.

US Housing Market “Unhealthy And Mismatched With Today’s Buyers” (CNBC)

From a broad view, the U.S. housing market looks very healthy. Demand is high, employment and wages are growing, and mortgage rates are low. But the nation’s housing market is assuredly unhealthy; in fact, it is increasingly mismatched with today’s buyers. While the big numbers don’t lie, they don’t tell the real truth about the affordability and availability of U.S. housing for the bulk of would-be buyers. First, several reports out this week point to both continued heat in home values as well as pushback from homebuyers. Prices remain nearly 6% higher than they were a year ago, nationally, with some local markets seeing double-digit annual price gains. Those prices are being driven by a severe lack of supply at the low end of the market, which is where the most demand exists. That means lower-priced homes are seeing bigger price gains than higher-priced homes because of the competition.

At the same time, sales are falling, again, because there are too few homes on the low end, and the homes that are available are very expensive. “It sets up a situation in which the housing market looks largely healthy from a 50,000-foot view, but on the ground, the situation is much different, especially for younger, first-time buyers and/or buyers of more modest means,” wrote Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow in a response to the latest home-price data. “Supply is low in general, but half of what is available to buy is priced in the top one-third of the market.” Supply on the low end is tight because during the housing crash investors large and small bought hundreds of thousands of foreclosed properties and turned them into rentals. There are currently 8 million more renter-occupied homes than there were in 2007, the peak of the housing boom, according to the U.S. Census.

Investors could take the opportunity of high prices and high demand to sell these properties, but today’s high rents offer them better returns. Low supply of homes for sale might also seem like a great opportunity for the nation’s homebuilders. Yes, they went through an epic housing crash, but they have since consolidated market share and righted their balance sheets. Homebuilders are simply not building enough inexpensive houses that the market needs. [..] Just 2% of newly built homes sold in August were priced under $150,000, and just 14% priced under $200,000. Compare that with the existing home market, where more than half of homes sold in August were priced under $250,000.

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“..a sharp reduction in property sales which tumbled 73.7% from the same quarter a year earlier.”

Home Prices, Sales In Beijing Are Falling Fast (BI)

According to the Caixin website, citing data from the research arm of 5I5J Group, the average price of existing homes in Beijing fell 5%, continuing the slide that began in the June quarter. The fall corresponded with a sharp reduction in property sales which tumbled 73.7% from the same quarter a year earlier. According to survey, turnover alone fell 43.7% in the quarter to 2.06 million units based on measurements using online contracts, the lowest quarterly total since 2015. The sharp decline in turnover and prices follows a series of measures introduced by Beijing’s municipal government to quash speculative activity in the city’s property market. Since October last year, it has raised borrowing costs and minimum downpayment requirements for mortgages for second homes.

It has also introduced requirements for non-local buyers to provide tax or social security payment records for at least 60 consecutive months and increased scrutiny on “strategic divorces” as ways to squeeze speculation out of the market, said Caixin. “In the spirit of central government’s directive that ‘homes are for living in, not speculating on,’ the real estate market in Beijing will continue to be under tight control, thus the existing home market in Beijing is likely to remain tepid in the near term,” Hu Jinghui, vice president of 5I5J Group’s research arm, told Caixin. The measures introduced in Beijing mirror similar efforts from authorities in other large cities to curb rapid price growth seen since the middle of 2015. Previously limited to large tier-one cities initially, restrictions on both buyers and sellers have been rolled out across an increasing number of centres in recent months, including in smaller cities, in an attempt to limit speculators from moving from one market to another.

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Deleveraging is just a word.

China Still Stocking Up On Metals And Credit – Beige Book (CNBC)

The China-driven surge in commodity prices could soon come to an end, according to a private survey of Chinese businesses. Contrary to “markets’ unremitting faith in the Chinese government campaign to combat” oversupply in metals, “firms are saying quite the opposite. For the sixth quarter in a row, coal, aluminum, steel, and copper each saw capacity rise on net,” according to the China Beige Book’s early brief of third-quarter data released Tuesday. “Sector-wide growth took a dive across the board—revenue, profits, output, export orders, volumes, hiring, capex, borrowing, wages, and sales prices,” the report said. The China Beige Book is a quarterly survey of Chinese companies in an attempt to present a more accurate picture of growth. Many question the accuracy of most Chinese government data, since officials may have incentive to inflate or deflate the figures they report in order to show compliance with central policy.

“There has been for the past year and a half a desire to not think too much about China,” Leland Miller, chief executive officer of China Beige Book, told CNBC. “I think you’re at a point right now where there’s been a complacency on the part of the Chinese economy that is lending itself to unrealistic expectations about the economy that are not going to be met.” Copper prices have rallied more than 25% this year to a three-year high on bets for stronger global growth, primarily out of the world’s second-largest economy, China. But the metal has since come off those levels to trade about 16.5% higher for the year. Morgan Stanley echoed some of the China Beige Book’s concern in a Monday report.

“So in fact, the strongest price performances of 2017 (aluminium, zinc, lead, copper, nickel, alumina, iron ore) are based on either China’s reform-based supply shocks or global currency trades – not a sustained improvement in demand growth,” equity strategist Tom Price and a team of analysts said. They have negative price forecasts on aluminum, copper, iron ore and steel. In its third-quarter survey of 3,300 firms and 160 bankers across 34 industries, the China Beige Book also found that companies borrowed at the second-highest rate in four years, contrary to widespread beliefs that China is reducing its use of credit to fuel growth. “Most of the year when the Chinese government has been talking about deleveraging that has not been evidenced in China Beige Book data,” Miller said. “At least part of the time corporations have had even easier access to capital and even when conditions have been tightening it has not contributed to deleveraging or slower deleveraging.”

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Yeah, the US should do the same.

China Tells Entrepreneurs They Must Put Patriotism Over Profit (BBG)

The Chinese government underlined that patriotism is a core element of entrepreneurship, with official media saying it had for the first time defined what enterprise means for the world’s second-biggest economy. The joint statement issued late Monday by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council urged entrepreneurs to advance patriotism and professionalism, as well as innovation and social responsibility. It called for stronger party guidance of entrepreneurs and for them to endorse party leaders. It also promised to create a environment where they can thrive. The guideline “has defined the core meaning of Chinese entrepreneurship under the new era,” with being patriotic and professional core components, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It’s the first edict “of its kind that focused on entrepreneurial spirit” and is intended “to spur market vitality,” Xinhua said.

The call for patriotic entrepreneurs underscores the trend of emphasizing the national missions of both private and state-run businesses under President Xi Jinping, who has sought to shore up the state sector and build “national champions.” It reflects internal concern about capital outflows and acquisitions, which have put downward pressure on the yuan in recent years. “Key elements of the document relate to the phenomenon of Chinese firms going on massive overseas shopping sprees,” said Han Meng, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Economics in Beijing. “If not reined in, this could hurt China’s economic base. Patriotic entrepreneurs are those who can do more to benefit the domestic economy and society.”

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Great time to call for more centralization.

Macron Lays Out Vision For ‘Profound’ Changes In EU (G.)

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars. In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”. With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris. Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

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Uber will leave Canadian province of Québec in October.

Uber’s New ‘Good Cop’ Tack Will Face Test in US City Tussles (BBG)

Uber is testing out a new conciliatory tone in London, where officials said they wouldn’t renew the ride-hailing service’s operating license. It’s going to have ample opportunity to see if that approach will work in the U.S. San Francisco’s city attorney is investigating whether Uber Technologies Inc. is a public nuisance. In New York, officials are mulling ways to tighten controls on ride-hailing, including requiring a quarter of all trips come with wheelchair-accessible vehicles. And Seattle has passed an ordinance to make it easier for Uber drivers to unionize. “Uber is at a turning point with big-city governments,” Jon Orcutt, director of communications and advocacy for the TransitCenter, said of Uber and other ride-sharing companies. “London’s action to threaten to withdraw their license really could turn the corner in a more normal regulatory situation for Uber.”

London officials said Friday the city would not renew Uber’s operating license, which is set to expire Sept. 30, because it isn’t “fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license.” The city cited a failure to do sufficient background checks on drivers, report crimes and a program called “Greyball” used to avoid regulators. In response, newly minted Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi released an open letter Monday apologizing “for the mistakes we’ve made” and acknowledging that the company “got things wrong along the way” during its rapid growth. London is a critical global market for Uber, which could encourage the company to make regulatory concessions to remain on the streets, Orcutt said. That stands in contrast with the company’s sharp-elbowed approach under co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber ruffled feathers in city halls in several major U.S. cities that struggled to corral the company during its growth. It raised the ire of local officials and incumbent taxi drivers by compiling a track record of skirting traditional taxi-industry regulations and refusing to share trip data and other records sought by city officials. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in July requested court orders for Uber and competitor Lyft Inc. to hand over years worth of records after the companies refused to comply with an earlier subpoena for the records. Herrera’s office is investigating whether the companies and their estimated 45,000 drivers in the city are creating a public nuisance, a finding that could subject the companies to civil monetary penalties and expose them to court injunctions restricting their operations in the city.

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Wait. If the mines don’t function, gold gets scarcer, right?

Hedge Fund Paulson & Co Declares War On Poor Gold Mining Returns (R.)

New York-based Paulson & Co, led by longtime gold bull John Paulson, called on Tuesday for the world’s biggest investors in gold-mining stocks to form a coalition to tackle miners’ “dreadful” performance. Speaking at the Denver Gold Forum, the industry’s top annual event, Paulson & Co partner Marcelo Kim launched the blistering attack on the sector, saying the hedge fund was looking for fellow founding members for a body to speak out on issues including high executive pay, cozy board appointments and value-destroying mergers and acquisitions. “If we don’t do anything to change, then as investors we will continually be disappointed with shareholder returns and the industry will slowly dig itself into a hole of irrelevance and oblivion,” Kim told a packed room of delegates.

The “shareholders’ gold council” would focus solely on the gold sector, issuing vote recommendations to shareholders on issues including company takeovers and chief executive officer pay, Kim said. He said that fellow large sector investor, Tocqueville, had endorsed the council idea. Average total shareholder returns from gold mining investments, including world No.1 producer Barrick, are a negative 65% since 2010 over a period when the CEOs of 13 of the largest companies have cumulatively received $550 million in pay, Kim said. In that time, the gold price rose by 20% and the price of oil, a major input cost for miners, fell by 28%, he said. Since 2010, the industry has written off $85 billion due to overpaying for acquisitions and massive cost overruns on mine builds, he said.

Amongst large producers, the weakest performer was Canadian miner Eldorado, which had destroyed shareholder value through M&A, he said. Eldorado could not immediately be reached for comment. Not all gold miners had performed poorly, Kim said, singling out Africa-focused Randgold as a role model. Shareholders have no one to blame but themselves for rubber stamping mergers, CEO pay packages and board appointments, Kim said, adding that there was little industry engagement with company boards or activism.

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Lack of focus.

The Case For The 3-Hour Workday (BI)

Over the course of an eight-hour workday, the average employee works for about three hours — two hours and 53 minutes, to be more precise. The rest of the time, according to a 2016 survey of 1,989 UK office workers, people spend on a combination of reading the news, browsing social media, eating food, socializing about non-work topics, taking smoke breaks, and searching for new jobs (presumably, to pick up the same habits in a different office). The research has been clear for awhile that long workdays hardly get the best from people. Some research has found people can only concentrate for about 20 minutes at a time. One study found people struggled to stay on task for more than 10 seconds.

Toward the end of the day, performance begins to flatline or even worsen, K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the psychology of work, said. “If you’re pushing people well beyond that time they can really concentrate maximally, you’re very likely to get them to acquire some bad habits,” Ericsson told Business Insider in 2016. Ericsson is the foremost expert on the topic of building expertise. He’s made a career out of studying the most successful people on Earth, and figuring out what exactly helps them rise so high. Turns out the mantra “practice makes perfect” is true, but only if people engage in a certain kind of practice known as “deliberate practice.” Experts don’t spend hours upon hours honing their craft, Ericsson has found. They spend a few hours at a time purposefully trying to improve, and then they stop.

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A very tense weekend is coming.

Spain Deploys Ever More Police To Prevent Catalan Independence Vote (G.)

Police will be deployed at polling stations to prevent people from voting in the Catalan independence referendum, the Spanish government has confirmed. Although the Catalonia regional government has insisted the unilateral poll will go ahead on Sunday, the Spanish government has vowed to stop the vote, which it says is a clear violation of the constitution. Spain’s constitutional court has suspended the legislation underpinning the referendum while it rules on its legality. A spokesman for the Spanish government’s Catalan delegation said on Tuesday that the region’s prosecutor had ordered the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, to take control of polling booths and identify those in charge. “The order has been conveyed and it will be executed with all normality,” he said.

The Spanish government said the steps it had taken over the past week, including raiding Catalan government offices, arresting 14 officials and seizing almost 10m ballot papers, meant the vote could not take place. “Today we can affirm that there will be no effective referendum in Catalonia,” the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, Enric Millo, told reporters on Tuesday. “All the referendum’s logistics have been dismantled.” In an order to police issued on Monday, the prosecutor’s office said it would take the names of anyone participating in the vote and confiscate relevant documents. Anyone in possession of the keys or entrance codes to a polling booth could be considered a collaborator to crimes of disobedience, misuse of office and misappropriation of funds, the order said.

However, despite the words and actions of the Spanish government, not to mention the deployment of thousands of extra police officers to Catalonia, the regional government is adamant that the referendum cannot be stopped. Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, has accused the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, of acting “beyond the limits of a respectable democracy” in his efforts to prevent the referendum. He has also compared the Spanish government’s behaviour to the repression of the Franco era and said it is only serving to drive more Catalans towards independence.

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People want to be independent all over.

Banned West Papua Independence Petition Handed To UN (G.)

A petition banned by the Indonesian government, but bearing the signatures of 1.8 million West Papuans – more than 70% of the contested province’s population – has been presented to the United Nations, with a demand for a free vote on independence. Exiled West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda presented the bound petition to the UN’s decolonisation committee, the body that monitors the progress of former colonies – known as non-self-governing territories – towards independence. The petition was banned in the provinces of Papua and West Papua by the Indonesian government, and blocked online across the country, so petition sheets had to be “smuggled from one end of Papua to the other”, Wenda told the Guardian from New York.

Independence campaigners have been jailed and allegedly tortured in Papua for opposing the rule of Indonesia, which has controlled Papua (now Papua and West Papua) since 1963. Those signing the petition risked arrest and jail. “The people have risked their lives, some have been beaten up, some are in prison. In 50 years, we have never done this before, and we had to organise this in secret,” Wenda said. “People were willing to carry it between villages, to smuggle it from one end of Papua to the other, because this petition is very significant for us in our struggle for freedom.”

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Atlantis down under.

Zealandia Drilling Reveals Secrets Of Sunken Lost Continent (G.)

The mostly submerged continent of Zealandia may have been much closer to land level than previously thought, providing pathways for animals and plants to cross continents from 80m years ago, an expedition has revealed. Zealandia, a for the most part underwater landmass in the South Pacific, was declared the Earth’s newest continent this year in a paper in the journal of the Geological Society of America. It includes Lord Howe Island off the east coast of Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand. On Wednesday researchers shared findings from their two-month-long expedition, one of the first extensive surveys of the region, announcing fossil discoveries and evidence of large-scale tectonic movements.

“The discovery of microscopic shells of organisms that lived in warm shallow seas, and spores and pollen from land plants, reveal that the geography and climate of Zealandia was dramatically different in the past,” said Prof Gerald Dickens of Rice University. Researchers drilled more than 860 metres below the sea floor in six different sites across Zealandia. The sediment cores collected showed evidence of tectonic and ecological change across millions of years. “The cores acted as time machines for us, allowing us to reach further and further back in time,” said Stephen Pekar, a researcher on board the scientific drilling vessel, in August. “As one scientist put it: ‘We are rewriting the geologic and tectonic history of Zealandia at this drill site.’”

The 5 million sq km continent, roughly the size of the Indian subcontinent, is believed to have separated from Australia and Antarctica, as part of Gondwana, about 80m years ago. On Wednesday Prof Rupert Sutherland from New Zealand’s Victoria University said the expedition had discovered “big geographic changes”. “[The research] has big implications for understanding big scientific questions, such as how did plants and animals disperse and evolve in the South Pacific? The discovery of past land and shallow seas now provides an explanation: there were pathways for animals and plants to move along.”

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Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

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Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

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Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

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It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

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If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

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Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

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People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

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Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

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More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

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Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

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Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

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Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

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Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

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Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

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“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

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Sep 232017
 
 September 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Salvador Dalí Mi esposa desnuda 1945

 

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)
The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)
Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)
Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)
The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)
China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)
Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)
UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)
The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)
Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)
Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)
It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)
The Killing of History (John Pilger)

 

 

“Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.”

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)

The U.S. Treasury has been up against its debt ceiling since March 15 when the ceiling was re-imposed. Since then, there has been no net new issuance from the Treasury. The Treasury has run down its cash balances and borrowed internally from its own resources, which are not subject to the ceiling. This period has been very helpful to the financial markets. With the federal government not selling any net new supply of securities—just rolling the maturing stuff over—the markets have been flush with cash that would otherwise have been absorbed by the government. This hit of extra liquidity is about to disappear and then some. President Trump has made a three-month debt ceiling deal with the Democrats which means that the Treasury can resume borrowing without restrictions through December.

This increase in the debt ceiling is needed to reliquify the federal government (which is down to $38 billion in cash) and repay the internal funds the Treasury raided since the debt ceiling was imposed back in March. The Treasury needs to borrow a substantial amount of money. There hasn’t been a material increase in the Treasury’s borrowing schedule yet, but it is coming. The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC), a group of senior Wall Street executives, has advised the Treasury to issue $501 billion in net new supply in the fourth quarter, virtually all in November and December, and the Treasury almost always follows the TBAC script. That’s an outrageous amount of money. The cash the Treasury needs is not sitting somewhere in primary dealer bank accounts; it’s invested in the financial markets. Securities will have to be sold to accommodate this new issuance.

This is not new. A borrowing spike happens every time we have an increase in the debt ceiling as the chart demonstrates. Note that this chart reflects an estimate of net new issuance needed to return to last year’s cash on hand and was produced before TBAC had issued its recommendations. TBAC is proposing to move more slowly. Nonetheless, past funding spikes are clearly demarcated and the next one is going to be big. While Treasury supply will increase, the trend of demand for Treasuries has been going the other way. Bid coverage at auctions has been declining in recent months and the largest banks have been reducing their inventories of Treasury securities. Falling demand in the face of increasing supply is a recipe for a bear market in bonds. Bond yields will rise and that will put pressure on stocks as well.

The Federal Reserve has given the market extraordinary support over the past eight years by financing most new Treasury supply. Even after it stopped outright QE in November of 2014, the Fed continued to buy $25–$45 billion per month in maturing Mortgage Backed Securities from the primary dealers. That cashed up the dealers and helped finance their purchases of new Treasuries. But now, the Fed intends to join the Treasury as a net seller of Treasuries (and MBS) as it starts to reduce its balance sheet this fall. Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.

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“These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.”

The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)

There’s a mystery hidden on the balance sheets of Corporate America: These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.This seems paradoxical and kind of silly. Why raise money from bond investors when you already have the liquid assets on hand? As Bloomberg News reported Thursday, non-financial companies’ liquid assets, which include foreign deposits, currency as well as money-market and mutual fund shares, reached a record of almost $2.3 trillion in the second quarter. That’s an increase of nearly 60% since mid-2009. This cash cushion also appears sort of comforting; companies can do whatever they want. They’re rich. But in reality, it is neither silly nor overly comforting.

First of all, a disproportionate amount of the cash is held by the biggest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and General Electric, and it is mostly held in overseas accounts. These corporations can’t bring that cash back without incurring steep tax bills, so they’ve been keeping it offshore. When they need money, they simply raise dollars by borrowing from the bond market at record-low rates. Indeed, the amount of bonds issued by these companies has surged, rising 66% from mid-2009 to $5.24 trillion of bonds outstanding as of the end of June, Federal Reserve data show. That isn’t necessarily a recipe for default because a large chunk of this is an exercise in financial engineering aimed at avoiding onerous taxes. But it has consequences.

First, it limits the benefit to the economy if and when those tax policies are changed because much of the money has already been released through the bond market. And second, to the extent that companies have cash, they’re not using enough of it for exciting projects. There hasn’t been a tremendous wave of innovation or salary increases. Instead, companies have repurchased billions of dollars of their own shares, which is great for the stock market but doesn’t do a whole lot to bolster economic growth.

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A bit poorly written, but still: “For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.”

Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)

The borrowing and spending binge by Canadian households, businesses and governments (all levels) continues unabated. Growing the debt in the economy significantly faster than the economy itself grows seems to have developed into a way of life in Canada. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $7.51 trillion. At the end of June, 2016 it was $7.13 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $375 billion. This is an increase of 5.2%. The approximate beginning of the global financial crisis was June, 2007. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $3.99 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $3.52 trillion. This is an increase of 88.3%. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.32 trillion.

At the end of June, 2016 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.04 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $278 billion. This is an increase of 5.5%. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $2.84 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $2.47 trillion. This is an increase of 86.9%. At the end of June, 2017 the annual GDP at market prices in Canada was $2.12 trillion, and in the preceding 1 year it grew by 6.3%, – ie: the size of the economy grew by $133.9 billion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the GDP at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding increased by $2.80.

Looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors in Canada: In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $278 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the gdp at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $2.08. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was 3.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices, and looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors, that was 2.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices. [..] In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.

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Communities and societies don’t matter. Only money does.

Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)

My chart highlights how for DECADES the income required to buy a median priced house – using popular programs & rates for each era – remained mostly flat (red line) and WELL BELOW the level of household income (black line). How could house prices rise so much for decades but income required to buy (red) them remain flattish? Because of the accompanying falling rates/easing credit guideline cycle. In fact, during Bubble 1.0 house prices soared but exotic loans legitimately made them more affordable than ever, as shown.

But in ’12, as trillions in unorthodox capital, credit & liquidity began to drive massive speculation (just like Bubble 1.0) income required to buy began to surge, with prices, shooting above median HH income (boxed in yellow). Meaningful sales growth with this affordability backdrop is impossible. …This is the point in this inflationary cycle at which affordability detached from end-user fundamentals. Now, in ’17, end-user purchase power & house prices have never been more diverged from the multi-decade trend line and a mean reversion – via surging wages, new era exotic loans, plunging rates, and/or falling house prices, as speculation ebbs – is inevitable.

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Must read. Like Charles, I don’t see it either. There is nothing to replace the USD for the foreseeable future.

The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)

Every form of credit/debt is denominated in a currency. A Japanese bond is denominated in yen, for example. The bond is purchased with yen, the interest is paid in yen, and the coupon paid at maturity is in yen. What gets tricky is debt denominated in some other currency. Let’s say I take out a loan denominated in quatloos. The current exchange rates between USD and quatloos is 1 to 1: parity. So far so good. I convert 100 USD to 100 quatloos every month to make the principal and interest payment of 100 quatloos. Then some sort of kerfuffle occurs in the FX markets, and suddenly it takes 2 USD to buy 1 quatloo. Oops: my loan payments just doubled. Where it once only cost 100 USD to service my loan denominated in quatloos, now it takes $200 to make my payment in quatloos. Ouch. Notice the difference between payments, reserves and debt: payments/flows are transitory, reserves and debt are not.

What happens in flows is transitory: supply and demand for currencies in this moment fluctuate, but flows are so enormous–trillions of units of currency every day–that flows don’t affect the value or any currency much. FX markets typically move in increments of 1/100 of a percentage point. So flows don’t matter much. De-dollarization of flows is pretty much a non-issue. What matters is demand for currencies that is enduring: reserves and debt.The same 100 quatloos can be used hundreds of times daily in payment flows; buyers and sellers only need the quatloos for a few seconds to complete the conversion and payment. But those needing quatloos for reserves or to pay long-term debts need quatloos to hold. The 100 quatloos held in reserve essentially disappear from the available supply of quatloos.

Another source of confusion is trade flows. If the U.S. buys more stuff from China than China buys from the U.S., goods flow from China to the U.S. and U.S. dollars flow to China. As China’s trade surplus continues, the USD just keep piling up. What to do with all these billions of USD? One option is to buy U.S. Treasury bonds (debt denominated in dollars), as that is a vast, liquid market with plenty of demand and supply. Another is to buy some other USD-denominated assets, such as apartment buildings in Seattle. This is the source of the petro-dollar trade. All the oil/gas that’s imported into the U.S. is matched by a flow of USD to the oil-exporting nations, who then have to do something with the steadily increasing pile of USD.

The USD is still the dominant reserve currency, despite decades of diversification. Global reserves (allocated and unallocated) are over $12 trillion. Note that China’s RMB doesn’t even show up in allocated reserves–it’s a non-player because it’s pegged to the USD. Why hold RMB when the peg can be changed at will? It’s lower risk to just hold USD. While total global debt denominated in USD is about $50 trillion, the majority of this is domestic, i.e. within the U.S. economy. $11 trillion has been issued to non-banks outside the U.S., including developed and emerging market debt:

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Well, not entirely.

China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)

China has moved to limit North Korea’s oil supply and will stop buying textiles from the politically isolated nation, it said on Saturday. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner, and one of its only sources of hard currency. The ban on textiles trade will hurt Pyongyang’s income, while China’s oil exports are the country’s main source of petroleum products. The tougher stance follows North Korea’s latest nuclear test this month. The United Nations agreed fresh sanctions – including the textiles and petroleum restrictions – in response. A statement from China’s commerce ministry said restrictions on refined petroleum products would apply from 1 October, and on liquefied natural gas immediately.

A limited amount, allowed under the UN resolution, would still be exported to North Korea. The current volume of trade between the two countries – and how much the new limits reduce it by – is not yet clear. But the ban on textiles – Pyongyang’s second-biggest export – is expected to cost the country more than $700m a year. China and Russia had initially opposed a proposal from the United States to completely ban oil exports, but later agreed to the reduced measures. North Korea has little energy production of its own, but does refine some petroleum products from crude oil it imports – which is not included in the new ban. The AFP news agency reports that petrol prices in Pyongyang have risen by about 20% in the past two months.

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Spring cleaning: “Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years..”

Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)

Russia’s central bank has been forced to rescue two major lenders in less than a month, intensifying concerns among global investors that a systemic banking crisis could be in the offing. The Russian government’s latest rescue of a major bank was confirmed on Thursday, when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) said it had nationalized the country’s 12th largest lender in terms of assets, B&N Bank. Last month, the CBR stepped in to launch one of the largest bank rescues in Russia’s history when Otkritie Bank required a bailout to help plug a $7 billion hole in its balance sheet. Russia’s central bank moved to dismiss intensifying concerns that a brewing systemic crisis could be forthcoming on Thursday, as it said its second major bank nationalization in three weeks had prevented a “domino effect” in the country’s ailing banking sector.

“We realized that it’s better to isolate a bit more so that the domino effect does not arise, and according to the results of this work the domino effect is excluded, there is no risk of this,” Vasily Pozdyshev, deputy governor at the CBR, told a press conference as reported by state media. B&N Bank requires an estimated capitalization of around $4.3 billion to $6 billion, according to Pozdyshev, an amount approximately equivalent to 25% of the lender’s balance sheet. The failure of two major lenders in relatively quick succession has fueled anxiety over the health of Russia’s banking sector, which has been hampered by an economic slowdown and Western sanctions in recent years.

In 2014, Russian regulators were jolted into action after a dramatic slump in oil prices as well as tough international sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and Russia’s perceived role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine. The CBR has been attempting to clean up the banking sector since 2013, shutting down scores of banks that it believed represented a risk to the system. Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years as it sought to eradicate undercapitalized institutions.

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Brexit becomes expensive.

UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)

The UK’s credit rating has been cut over concerns about the UK’s public finances and fears Brexit could damage the country’s economic growth. Moody’s, one of the major ratings agencies, downgraded the UK to an Aa2 rating from Aa1. It said leaving the European Union was creating economic uncertainty at a time when the UK’s debt reduction plans were already off course. Downing Street said the firm’s Brexit assessments were “outdated”. The other major agencies, Fitch and S&P, changed their ratings in 2016, with S&P cutting it two notches from AAA to AA, and Fitch lowering it from AA+ to AA.

Moody’s said the government had “yielded to pressure and raised spending in several areas” including health and social care. It says revenues were unlikely to compensate for the higher spending. The agency said because the government had not secured a majority in the snap election it “further obscures the future direction of economic policy”. It also said Brexit would dominate legislative priorities, so there could be limited capacity to address “substantial” challenges. It added “any free trade agreement will likely take years to negotiate, prolonging the current uncertainty for business”. Moody’s has also changed the UK’s long-term issuer and debt ratings to “stable” from “negative”.

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Uber was allowed to grow massively, elbowing any competition out of the way. It’s just dumb.

The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)

Transport for London has announced it will not renew ride-sharing app Uber’s licence, because it had identified a “lack of corporate responsibility” in the company. The statement highlighted four major areas of concern: the company’s approach to reporting criminal offences, the obtaining of medical certificates, its compliance with Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on employees, and its use of controversial Greyball software to “block regulatory… access to the app”. The company has recently been dogged by a number of corporate scandals in the UK and its international operations, which ultimately led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick in June. Uber has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault by its drivers against passengers.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun last year showed that the Metropolitan Police investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of a passenger between May 2015 and May 2016. In August, Metropolitan Police Inspector Neil Billany wrote to TfL about his concern that the company was failing to properly investigate allegations against its drivers. He revealed the company had continued to employ a driver after he was accused of sexual assault. According to Inspector Billany, the same driver went on to assault another female passenger before he was removed. The letter said: “By not reporting to police promptly, Uber are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.”

The statement by London’s transport body also expresses concern about “its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London”. In March it emerged that Uber had been secretly using a tool called Greyball to deceive law enforcement officials in a number of US cities where the company flouted state regulations. Greyball used personal data of individuals it believed were connected to local government and ensured that its drivers would not pick them up if they requested a ride on the app. It was used in Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Boston, and Las Vegas, as well as France, Australia, China, South Korea and Italy. Uber denies ever using the software in the UK.

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Politicians are too scared to call for regulation of things they don’t understand.

Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)

Uber isn’t the only sharing economy app that has become part of daily life in the capital. Since 2008, over four million people have stayed in an Airbnb in London. The company, which links guests up with empty rooms or homes in the capital, recently came under fire in the US for not properly screening a host who attempted to sexually assault a woman (a spokesman for Airbnb later told The Independent that a background check had been done on the host and that there had been no prior convictions). The legal ruling over Uber could now bring the responsibilities of other companies such as Airbnb into the limelight. The rapid proliferation of these types of “gig economy” companies over the past few years has meant that many of them have forgotten their basic responsibilities toward their customers.

As The Independent’s Josie Cox has written, they forgot that the sharing economy business model was based on trust – we had to have confidence that the strangers we were sharing cars with were safe, and they couldn’t provide that. For too long, Uber tried to evade its role as anything more than a provider of tech. But we were never just sharing software; we were sharing our lives. Uber tried to get away with pretending it was a neutral software platform for far too long – all it did was link people together, and its responsibilities went as far as fixing glitches. But it was always a private taxi hire firm. It was a company with employees, who it should have been paying properly from that start, and customers, who it should have been protecting.

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“We’re only two days past the Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico and there is no phone communication across the island, so we barely know what has happened. We’re weeks past Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and news of the consequences from those two events has strangely fallen out of the news media. Where have the people gone who lost everything? The news blackout is as complete and strange as the darkness that has descended on Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)

Ricardo Ramos, the director of the beleaguered, government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN Thursday that the island’s power infrastructure had been basically “destroyed” and will take months to come back “Basically destroyed.” That’s about as basic as it gets civilization-wise. Residents, Mr. Ramos said, would need to change the way they cook and cool off. For entertainment, old-school would be the best approach, he said. “It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children.” Meaning, I guess, no more playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on-screen because you’ll be living it — though one wonders where will the money come from to buy the ball and glove? Few Puerto Ricans will be going to work with the power off.

And the island’s public finances were in disarray sufficient to drive it into federal court last May to set in motion a legal receivership that amounted to bankruptcy in all but name. The commonwealth, a US territory, was in default for $74 billion in bonded debt, plus another $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations. So, Puerto Rico already faced a crisis pre-Hurricane Maria, with its dodgy electric grid and crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewage systems. Bankruptcy put it in a poor position to issue new bonds for public works which are generally paid for with public borrowing. Who, exactly, would buy the new bonds? I hear readers whispering, “the Federal Reserve.” Which is a pretty good clue to understanding the circle-jerk that American finance has become.

Some sort of bailout is unavoidable, though President Trump tweeted “No Bailout for Puerto Rico” after the May bankruptcy proceeding. Things have changed and the shelf-life of Trumpian tweets is famously brief. But the crisis may actually strain the ability of the federal government to pretend it can cover the cost of every calamity that strikes the nation — at least not without casting doubt on the soundness of the dollar. And not a few bonafide states are also whirling around the bankruptcy drain: Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky. Constitutionally states are not permitted to declare bankruptcy, though counties and municipalities can. Congress would have to change the law to allow it. But states can default on their bonds and other obligations. Surely there would be some kind of fiscal and political hell to pay if they go that route.

Nobody really knows what might happen in a state as big and complex as Illinois, which has been paying its way for decades by borrowing from the future. Suddenly, the future is here and nobody has a plan for it. The case for the federal government is not so different. It, too, only manages to pay its bondholders via bookkeeping hocuspocus, and its colossal unfunded obligations for social security and Medicare make Illinois’ predicament look like a skipped car payment. In the meantime — and it looks like it’s going to be a long meantime – Puerto Rico is back in the 18th Century, minus the practical skills and simpler furnishings for living that way of life, and with a population many times beyond the carrying capacity of the island in that era.

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Still 8 days to go. How can this remian peaceful? Will Rajoy try to provoke violence (if he isn’t already) and blame it on the Catalans?

It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)

Madrid’s crackdown on Catalonia is already having one major consequence, presumably unintended: many Catalans who were until recently staunchly opposed to the idea of national independence are now reconsidering their options. A case in point: At last night’s demonstration, spread across multiple locations in Barcelona, were two friends of mine, one who is fanatically apolitical and the other who is a strong Catalan nationalist but who believes that independence would be a political and financial disaster for the region. It was their first ever political demonstration. If there is a vote on Oct-1, they will probably vote to secede. The middle ground they and hundreds of thousands of others once occupied was obliterated yesterday when a judge in Barcelona ordered Spain’s militarized police force, the Civil Guard, to round up over a dozen Catalan officials in dawn raids.

Many of them now face crushing daily fines of up to €12,000. The Civil Guard also staged raids on key administrative buildings in Barcelona. The sight of balaclava-clad officers of the Civil Guard, one of the most potent symbols of the not-yet forgotten Franco dictatorship, crossing the threshold of the seats of Catalonia’s (very limited) power and arresting local officials, was too much for the local population to bear. Within minutes almost all of the buildings were surrounded by crowds of flag-draped pro-independence protesters. The focal point of the day’s demonstrations was the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose second-in-command and technical coordinator of the referendum, Josep Maria Jové, was among those detained. He has now been charged with sedition and could face between 10-15 years in prison. Before that, he faces fines of €12,000 a day.

[..] yesterday’s police operation significantly — perhaps even irreversibly — weakens Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum on October 1, as even the region’s vice-president Oriol Junqueras concedes. But that doesn’t mean Spain has won. As the editor of El Diario, Ignacio Escolar, presciently notes, yesterday’s raids may have been a resounding success for law enforcement, but they were an unmitigated political disaster that has merely intensified the divisions between Spain and Catalonia and between Catalans themselves. Each time Prime Minister Rajoy or one of his ministers speak of the importance of defending democracy while the Civil Guard seizes posters and banners related to the October 1 vote and judges rule public debates on the Catalan question illegal and then fine their participants, a fresh clutch of Catalan separatists is born.

In the days to come they will be swarming the streets, waving their flags, clutching their red carnations and singing their songs. For the moment, the mood is still one of hopeful, resolute indignation. But the mood of masses is prone to change quickly, and it’s not going to take much to ignite the anger.

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Pilger was a Vietnam correspondent. He knows what he’s talking about.

The Killing of History (John Pilger)

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”. In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam. Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”.

Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives. I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”. The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.

There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans – it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences. In the series’ press release in Britain – the BBC will show it – there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern. All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”. In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.

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May 022016
 


NPC Walker Hill Dairy, Washington, DC 1921

Japanese Stocks Fall Sharply in the Morning (WSJ)
Asian Economies Stay Sluggish, Stimulus Lacks Traction (R.)
World’s Longest NIRP Experiment Shows Perverse Effects (BBG)
Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt On EU-US Trade Deal (G.)
‘The Fed Is Afraid Of Its Own Shadow’ (CNBC)
Fed May Need More Powers To Support Securities Firms During Crises: Dudley (R.)
Puerto Rico To Default On Government Development Bank Debt Monday (CNBC)
Banks Told To Stop Pushing Own Funds (FT)
Halliburton and Baker Hughes Scrap $34.6 Billion Merger (R.)
Will Australia’s Ever-Growing Debt Pile Peak In Six Years? (BBG)
Europe’s Liberal Illusions Shatter As Greek Tragedy Plays On (G.)
Bank Of England Busy Preparing For Brexit Vote (FT)
Nearly Half Of British Parents Raid Children’s Piggy Banks To Pay Bills (PA)
‘Bitcoin Creator Reveals Identity’ (BBC)
Storm Clouds Gathering Over Kansas Farms (WE)
NATO Moves Ever Closer To Russia’s Borders (RT)
Austria, Germany Press EU To Prolong Border Controls (AFP)
Newborn Baby Among 99 Dead After Shipwrecks In Mediterranean (G.)

The yen keeps rising. Pressure is building. Relentlessly.

Japanese Stocks Fall Sharply in the Morning (WSJ)

Japanese stocks fell sharply early Monday, leading declines in the rest of Asia, on the yen’s surge to a new 1 1/2-year high against the dollar, weak earnings results from several firms and selling after the Bank of Japan’s inaction on Thursday. The Nikkei Stock Average was down 3.6% at the lunch break in Tokyo. Japanese markets were closed on Friday for a national holiday. Australia’s ASX 200 was 1.3% lower, New Zealand’s NZX-50 was down 0.2% and South Korea’s Kospi was 0.5% lower. Many markets in Asia were closed for national holidays, including China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Japanese stocks are extending falls following the BOJ’s decision to keep its policies unchanged despite slowing inflation and previous expectations for a boost for its asset-purchase program, particularly in exchange-traded funds.

The yen’s surge against the dollar is also hitting Japanese exporters. The dollar was at ¥106.48 after falling to as low as ¥106.14, the lowest level since October 2014, according to EBS. “Bad news takes place all at once,” said Katsunori Kitakura, strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank. He said market turbulence around the BOJ policy meetings suggests the central bank’s communication with markets isn’t as smooth as it should be.“Westpac’s miss on headline expectations has set the tone for a nervous market this morning,” CMC Markets chief market analyst Ric Spooner said. He adds while Westpac’s first-half earnings were only marginally below expectations and there doesn’t appear to be anything seriously alarming, investors are concerned it is struggling to get cost growth down. Westpac is down 4.1%.

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There’s only one thing to keep the BAU facade going in China and Japan: debt. And more debt.

Asian Economies Stay Sluggish, Stimulus Lacks Traction (R.)

Japanese manufacturing activity shrank in April at the fastest pace in more than three years as deadly earthquakes disrupted production, while output in China and the rest of Asia remained lukewarm at best. Even the former bright spot of India took a turn for the worse as both domestic and foreign orders dwindled, pulling its industry barometer to a four-month trough. Surveys due later on Monday are expected to show only sluggish activity in Europe and the US as the world’s factories are dogged by insufficient demand and excess supply. “The backdrop remains one of sub-trend growth, inflation that is below target, difficulty in increasing revenue as margins are sacrificed to win modest volume gains, slow wage growth cramping spending and central banks that have used up much of their policy ammunition,” said Alan Oster at National Australia Bank.

That is exactly why the U.S. Federal Reserve has been dragging its feet on a follow-up to its December rate hike, leaving the markets in a sweat in case they move in June. Doubts about policy ammunition mounted last week when the Bank of Japan refrained from offering any hint of more stimulus, sending stocks reeling as the yen surged to 18-month highs. The Nikkei was down another 3.6% on Monday while the yen raced as far as 106.14 to the dollar and squeezed the country’s giant export sector. Industry was already struggling to recover from the April earthquakes that halted production in the southern manufacturing hub of Kumamoto. The impact was all too clear in the Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) which fell to a seasonally adjusted 48.2 in April, from 49.1 in March.

The index stayed below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the second straight month. The news was only a little better in China where the official PMI was barely positive at 50.1 in April, a cold shower for those hoping fresh fiscal and monetary stimulus from Beijing would enable a speedy pick up. The findings were “a little bit disappointing”, Zhou Hao, senior emerging market economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, wrote in a note. “To some extent, this hints that recent China enthusiasm has been a bit overpriced and the data improvement in March is short-lived.”

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Negative rates lead to the exact opposite of what they’re allegedly intended for. And that’s predictable.

World’s Longest NIRP Experiment Shows Perverse Effects (BBG)

When interest rates are high, people borrow less and save more. When they’re low, savings go down and borrowing goes up. But what happens when rates stay negative? In Denmark, where rates have been below zero longer than anywhere else on the planet, the private sector is saving more than it did when rates were positive (before 2012). Private investment is down and the economy is in a “low-growth crisis,” to quote Handelsbanken. The latest inflation data show prices have stagnated. As the Danes head even further down their negative-rate tunnel, the experiences of the Scandinavian economy may provide a glimpse of what lies ahead for other countries choosing the lesser known side of zero. Denmark has about $600 billion in pension and investment savings.

The people who help oversee those funds say the logic of cheap money fueling investment doesn’t hold once rates drop below zero. That’s because consumers and businesses interpret such extreme policy as a sign of crisis with no predictable outcome. “Negative rates are counter-productive,” said Kasper Ullegaard at Sampension in Copenhagen. The policy “makes people save more to protect future purchasing power and even opt for less risky assets because there’s so little transparency on future returns and risks.” The macro data bear out the theory. The Danish government estimates that investment in the private sector will be equivalent to 16.1% of GDP this year, compared with 18.1% between 1990 and 2012. Meanwhile, the savings rate in the private sector will reach 26% of GDP this year, versus 21.3% in the roughly two decades until Danish rates went negative, Finance Ministry estimates show.

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From ZH: “..55% of Germans and 53% of Americans thought the TTIP deals was beneficial for the two respective countries as recently as 2014; a recent YouGov poll found that support for the deal had tumbled to just 17% and 15% respectively…”

Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt On EU-US Trade Deal (G.)

Talks for a free trade deal between Europe and the US face a serious impasse with “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, according to leaked negotiating texts. The two sides are also at odds over US demands that would require the EU to break promises it has made on environmental protection. President Obama said last week he was confident a deal could be reached. But the leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, paint a very different picture. “Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” says one internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Talks on engineering were also “characterised by continuous reluctance on the part of the US to engage in this sector,” the confidential briefing says. These problems are not mentioned in a separate report on the state of the talks, also leaked, which the European commission has prepared for scrutiny by the European parliament. These outline the positions exchanged between EU and US negotiators between the 12th and the 13th round of TTIP talks, which took place in New York last week. The public document offers a robust defence of the EU’s right to regulate and create a court-like system for disputes, unlike the internal note, which does not mention them.

Jorgo Riss, the director of Greenpeace EU, said: “These leaked documents give us an unparalleled look at the scope of US demands to lower or circumvent EU protections for environment and public health as part of TTIP. The EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible. The prospect of a TTIP compromising within that range is an awful one. The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards.” US proposals include an obligation on the EU to inform its industries of any planned regulations in advance, and to allow them the same input into EU regulatory processes as European firms.

American firms could influence the content of EU laws at several points along the regulatory line, including through a plethora of proposed technical working groups and committees. “Before the EU could even pass a regulation, it would have to go through a gruelling impact assessment process in which the bloc would have to show interested US parties that no voluntary measures, or less exacting regulatory ones, were possible,” Riss said.

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“In a world that’s already choking on too much debt, the cost of money really isn’t an important variable and it is not a binding constraint on anybody’s decision making.”

‘The Fed Is Afraid Of Its Own Shadow’ (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve surprised few last week when it keep interest rates unchanged, noting that it “continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.” However, one market watcher has a blunt message for Fed chair Janet Yellen: You’re placing your hope in a fairy tale. On a recent CNBC’s “Futures Now,” Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar made the case that the Fed will never get the “perfect” conditions they seek before increasing short-term rates once again. The Fed’s mandate “isn’t to have a perfect world. That only exists in fairy tales, dreams and in your econometric models,” Boockvar said in a recent note to clients. He believes that the Fed’s monetary has been far too accommodative under Yellen as well as under Ben Bernanke.

Boockvar argued that the Fed has been taking cues from shaky international banks, and that doing so will always offer a reason to keep interest rates low. In Wednesday’s statement, the strategist noted new suggestions that the Fed is shifting its focus to concerns over international development. In its March statement, the Fed said that “global economic and financial developments continue to post risks,” a line that does not appear in the more recent language. “It’s been excuse, after excuse, after excuse,” Boockvar said. “This is why, eight years into an expansion, they’ve only raised interest rates once. They’re afraid of their own shadow. They’re in a terrible hole that they’re not going to be able to get out of.”

Whether looking at the Fed, the Bank of Japan, or the European Central Bank, Boockvar sees a landscape littered with policy errors. “They all believe that, by making money cheaper, you can somehow generate faster growth,” Boockvar said. Based on this, Boockvar said that central bankers are losing their credibility and their ability to generate higher asset prices, putting the stock market in a precarious position. “In a world that’s already choking on too much debt, the cost of money really isn’t an important variable and it is not a binding constraint on anybody’s decision making.”

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The Fed wants to hold investors’ hands at the crap table.

Fed May Need More Powers To Support Securities Firms During Crises: Dudley (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve may need more powers to provide emergency funding to securities firms in times of extreme stress in order to deal with a liquidity crunch, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley said on Sunday. “Providing these firms with access to the discount window might be worth exploring,” Dudley said in prepared remarks at a financial markets conference in Amelia Island, Florida organized by the Atlanta Fed. The discount window is a credit facility through which banks borrow directly from the U.S. central bank in order to cope with liquidity shortages. The Fed currently has limited ability to provide funding to securities firms in such situations, with the discount window only available to depository institutions.

But the transformation of securities firms since the financial crisis, Dudley said, with the major ones now part of bank holding companies and subject to capital and liquidity stress tests, meant the environment has now changed. “To me, this is a more reasonable proposition now than it was prior to the crisis when the major dealers weren’t subject to those safeguards,” he said. Other “significant gaps” remain in the lender-of-last-resort function, Dudley added. On this, he cited work being done on a global level by the Bank of International Settlements, which is studying deficiencies with respect to systemically important firms that operate across countries. Dudley called for greater attention in order to determine which country would be the lender-of-last-resort for such companies during another crisis. “Expectations about who will be the lender-of-last-resort need to be well understood in both the home and host countries,” he said.

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The perhaps most interesting part: How will this spread to other states? Are we seeing a blueprint emerge?

Puerto Rico To Default On Government Development Bank Debt Monday (CNBC)

Puerto Rico will miss a major debt payment due to creditors Monday, registering the largest default to date for the fiscally struggling U.S. territory. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced on Sunday the “very difficult decision” to declare a moratorium on the $389 million debt service payment due to bondholders of the island’s Government Development Bank (GDB), which acts as the island’s primary fiscal agent and lender of last resort. “We would have preferred to have had a legal framework to restructure our debts in an orderly manner,” Gov. Garcia Padilla said via a televised address in Spanish.

“But faced with the inability to meet the demands of our creditors and the needs of our people, I had to make a choice … I decided that essential services for the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico came first,” he said. This will not be the first default for Puerto Rico — according to Moody’s Investors Services, the government has failed to make about $143 million in debt obligation payments since its historic default in August on subject-to-appropriation bonds issued by the Public Finance Corporation (PFC). The commonwealth will pay the approximately $22 million in interest due on the GDB bonds, as well as the nearly $50 million owed to creditors on a handful of other securities that have payments slated for Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Late on Friday, the bank announced it was able to come to an agreement with credit unions that hold approximately $33 million of the bonds due Monday. Under the deal, these bondholders will swap existing securities with new debt that matures in May, 2017. Gov. Garcia Padilla reiterated his plea to Congress to give the commonwealth the legal tools necessary to address Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt pile and ensure the sustainability of the island. “Puerto Rico needs Speaker Paul Ryan to exercise his leadership and honor his word…we need this restructuring mechanism now,” he said.

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Stupid games resulting from unconditional TBTF central bank support.

Banks Told To Stop Pushing Own Funds (FT)

Brussels has moved to stamp out the practice of large banks funnelling clients towards poorly performing in-house asset management products under new rules designed to improve investor protection across Europe. Over the past two years, independent asset managers and investor rights groups have raised concerns that bank advisers are increasingly recommending in-house funds to clients when investors might be better off in external products. These concerns have been fuelled by the rapid growth of banks’ asset management divisions. Seven of the 10 bestselling asset management companies in Europe last year were subsidiaries of banks. But under new EU legislation known as Mifid II, bank advisers who want to continue receiving commission payments will have to offer funds from external investment companies.

Guidelines on how the rules will apply, released last month, state that advisers can only receive commissions if they offer a “number of instruments from third-party product providers having no close links with the investment firm”. Commentators said the new rules would be a big change for the market. Sean Tuffy, head of regulatory affairs at BBH, the financial services company, said the additional Mifid II guidelines were “unexpected”. He added: “Asset managers would welcome that provision. One of their biggest concerns is the ever-closed architecture world [where banks only push their own funds].” James Hughes at lobby group Cicero said: “When the new rules come into force in 2018] banks won’t be able to only offer their own products. This will be monitored by national [regulators] through a mixture of mystery shopping tests and customer service panels.”

Under the existing system, many banks solely recommend internal products to investors. This keeps fees and commission payments in-house and boosts the parent company’s profitability. Some banks, such as UBS, say they offer a small number of external funds to clients. Others — including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley — say they offer a high proportion of external funds to clients, a model known in the industry as “open architecture”. None of the banks mentioned are willing to provide a breakdown of the level of external funds sold versus internal products. The push to make banks recommend more external products can be circumvented if an adviser agrees to assess the suitability of a client’s investments on at least an annual basis.

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“..Baker Hughes, which was valued at $34.6 billion when it was announced in November 2014, and is now worth about $28 billion..”

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Scrap $34.6 Billion Merger (R.)

Oilfield services provider Halliburton and smaller rival Baker Hughes announced the termination of their $28 billion merger deal on Sunday after opposition from U.S. and European antitrust regulators. The tie-up would have brought together the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 oil services companies, raising concerns it would result in higher prices in the sector. It is the latest example of a large merger deal failing to make it to the finish line because of antitrust hurdles. “Challenges in obtaining remaining regulatory approvals and general industry conditions that severely damaged deal economics led to the conclusion that termination is the best course of action,” said Dave Lesar, chief executive of Halliburton.

The contract governing Halliburton’s cash-and-stock acquisition of Baker Hughes, which was valued at $34.6 billion when it was announced in November 2014, and is now worth about $28 billion, expired on Saturday without an agreement by the companies to extend it, Reuters reported earlier on Sunday, citing a person familiar with the matter. Halliburton will pay Baker Hughes a $3.5 billion breakup fee by Wednesday as a result of the deal falling apart. The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit last month to stop the merger, arguing it would leave only two dominant suppliers in 20 business lines in the global well drilling and oil construction services industry, with Schlumberger being the other. “The companies’ decision to abandon this transaction – which would have left many oilfield service markets in the hands of a duopoly – is a victory for the U.S. economy and for all Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement on Sunday.

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One thing only is sure: the debt is growing. All the rest is somewhere between propaganda and wishful thinking. If more debt is projected to provide more votes, what do you think will happen?

Will Australia’s Ever-Growing Debt Pile Peak In Six Years? (BBG)

Australia’s drive to balance the books will see the federal government’s debt pile top out within about five or six years and then start to shrink again, according to Treasurer Scott Morrison. Speaking in Canberra just ahead of his first budget on Tuesday, Morrison said he expects the fiscal deficit to narrow over the government’s four-year forecast horizon and pledged to keep expenditure under control. “To start reducing the debt you’ve got to get the deficit down. To get the deficit down you’ve got to get your spending down,” Morrison said in a Channel Nine television interview on Sunday. “The deficit will decrease over the budget and forward estimates and we will see both gross and net debt peak over about the next five or six years, and then it will start to fall.”

The Australian budget was last in surplus in 2007-08 and attempts to rein in the deficit have been stymied by a slump in revenue as commodity prices fell. Morrison’s challenge is to maintain Australia’s public finances on a sound footing without increasing risks to the economy as it reduces its reliance on mining. He must also contend with the prospect of an upcoming election, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to call for July 2. Total outstanding federal debt is now more than seven times larger than it was before the 2008 global crisis and net debt is predicted to increase to 18.5% of GDP in 2016-17, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. The underlying cash deficit is expected to reach A$35 billion ($27 billion) next fiscal year, A$1.3 billion more than the government had forecast in its December fiscal update.

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“It will then be punished further for being unable to do what was impossible in the first place.”

Europe’s Liberal Illusions Shatter As Greek Tragedy Plays On (G.)

Greece is running out of money. The government in Athens is raiding the budgets of the health service and public utilities to pay salaries and pensions. Without fresh financial support it will struggle to make a debt payment due in July. No, this is not a piece from the summer of 2015 reprinted by mistake. Greece, after a spell out of the limelight, is back. Another summer of threats, brinkmanship and all-night summits looms. The problem is a relatively simple one. Greece is bridling at the unrealistic demands of the EC and the IMF to agree to fresh austerity measures when, as the IMF itself accepts, hospitals are running out of syringes and buses don’t run because of a lack of spare parts. Athens has already pushed through a package of austerity measures worth €5.4bn as the price of receiving an €86bn bailout agreed at the culmination of last summer’s protracted crisis and expected the deal to be finalised last October.

Disbursements of the loan have been held up, however, because neither the commission or the IMF believe that Greece will make the promised savings. So they are demanding that Alexis Tsipras’s government legislate for additional “contingency measures” worth €3.6bn to be triggered in the event that Greece fails to meet its fiscal targets. This is almost inevitable, given that the target is for the country to run a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP by 2018 and in every year thereafter. This means that once Greece’s debt payments are excluded, tax receipts have to exceed public spending by 3.5% of GDP. The exceptionally onerous terms are supposed to whittle away Greece’s debt mountain, currently just shy of 200% of GDP. If this all sounds like Alice in Wonderland economics, then that’s because it is.

Greece is being set budgetary targets that the IMF knows are unrealistic and is being set up to fail. It will then be punished further for being unable to do what was impossible in the first place. Predictably enough, the government in Athens is not especially taken with this idea. It has described the idea as outlandish and unconstitutional, but is in a weak position because it desperately needs the bailout loan and threw away its only real bargaining chip last year by making it clear that it would stay in the single currency whatever the price. So Tsipras is doing what he did last year. He is playing for time, hopeful that by hanging tough and threatening another summer of chaos he can force Europe’s leaders to offer him a better deal – less onerous deficit reduction measures coupled with a decent slug of debt relief. For the time being though, the matter is being handled by the eurozone’s finance ministers, who want their full pound of flesh.

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Not preparing to assist people, only banks.

Bank Of England Busy Preparing For Brexit Vote (FT)

The Bank of England is consumed with preparing contingency plans for Britain to leave the EU, with staff across its financial stability, monetary policy and regulatory wings ready to calm any turmoil. In the days leading up to the June 23 poll, the Bank will hold additional auctions of sterling to ensure the banking system has sufficient funds to operate in a potentially chaotic moment. Three exceptional auctions of cash have already been planned for June 14, 21 and 28. But stuffing the banks full of cash will not prevent foreigners and UK households and companies dumping sterling in the event of a Brexit vote. Michael Saunders, the new member of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, expects the pound to come under severe pressure.

While still at Citi, he wrote that Brexit risks were “nowhere near priced yet”, adding that Britain should expect a 15 to 20% depreciation of sterling against Britain’s main trading partners. If such a decision to flee sterling leads British banks to become short of foreign currency, the BoE will rapidly offer foreign currency loans to the financial system, using swap lines with other central banks still in existence from the financial crisis. Philip Shaw of Investec said that using such swap lines would be needed only in “fairly extreme circumstances” and the BoE would also need to “make reassuring noises about the soundness of the financial system” to help shore up confidence.

Officials are already pointing to the 2014 stress test of banks, which assumed a reassessment of the health of the UK economy led to a “depreciation of sterling”, to suggest that the banking system would cope. “Unless any UK financial institutions have bet their shirt on an early recovery of sterling it is hard to see what Brexit would do in immediate terms,” said Stephen Wright, a professor at Birkbeck College, London University. The week after the referendum, the Financial Policy Committee will have an opportunity to loosen the requirements for banks to hold capital if there is a financial panic, putting in place the new regime of measures to counter the credit cycle. But even if the BoE could cope with immediate market gyrations from Brexit, it would soon face what Mr Saunders called “a major policy dilemma” over interest rates.

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UK 2016. Lovely. And Cameron’s not done.

Nearly Half Of British Parents Raid Children’s Piggy Banks To Pay Bills (PA)

Nearly half of parents admit to being “piggy bank raiders” who occasionally dip into their children’s cash to cover costs such as parking, takeaways, taxis, school trips and paying the window cleaner. Some 46% of parents of children aged between four and 16 years old said they have taken money from their child’s savings, a survey by Nationwide Building Society has found. The average amount taken over the past year was £21.41, while one in 10 parents had taken £50 or more during that period. Mums are more likely to raid their child’s savings than dads, but dads tend to swipe larger amounts the survey found. The months after Christmas, when many families are getting their finances back on track, also appear to be the time when piggy bank raiders are most prolific.

The survey of 2,000 parents found those in Yorkshire and the Humber, north-east England and south-west England were the most likely to use children’s savings, with those in London, Wales and north-west England the least likely. About 15% of piggy bank raiding parents said they used the cash to pay school lunch money, while the same proportion also use it to pay a bill; 11% used the money for school trips and 11% used it as loose change for parking. One in 12 took the money to tide themselves over as they were broke. A further 12% used the cash for other purposes, including bus fares, hair cuts, petrol costs, takeaways, paying the window cleaner and for the “tooth fairy”.

The vast majority of parents (93%) said they put the money back afterwards – and only 39% of children noticed the money had disappeared. Nearly a third of parents who took money said they had confessed to their child, while 23% sneaked the money back into their child’s piggy bank. One in seven added interest to the amount they had borrowed. Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, Nationwide’s head of savings and mortgage policy, said: “Despite being in charge of instilling a good approach to finance, almost half of parents have been caught in spring raids on their kid’s piggy bank stash. While liberating change for parking or to pay school lunch money could be viewed as excusable, one in 10 parents borrowed more than £50 in the last year, including for paying bills.

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And the media are overflowing with questions.

‘Bitcoin Creator Reveals Identity’ (BBC)

Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright has publicly identified himself as Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. His admission ends years of speculation about who came up with the original ideas underlying the digital cash system. Mr Wright has provided technical proof to back up his claim using coins known to be owned by Bitcoin’s creator. Prominent members of the Bitcoin community and its core development team have also confirmed Mr Wright’s claim. Mr Wright has revealed his identity to three media organisations – the BBC, the Economist and GQ.

At the meeting with the BBC, Mr Wright digitally signed messages using cryptographic keys created during the early days of Bitcoin’s development. The keys are inextricably linked to blocks of bitcoins known to have been created or “mined” by Satoshi Nakamoto. “These are the blocks used to send 10 bitcoins to Hal Finney in January [2009] as the first bitcoin transaction,” said Mr Wright during his demonstration. Renowned cryptographer Hal Finney was one of the engineers who helped turn Mr Wright’s ideas into the Bitcoin protocol, he said.

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Meanwhile below the radar….

Storm Clouds Gathering Over Kansas Farms (WE)

While the lush green sea of wheat filling Kansas fields will turn gold in a few weeks, beneath the comforting cycle of planting and harvest lies big trouble for the state’s farmers and rural communities. The value of farm ground here and across the country is beginning to fall. That drop can cause havoc for the farmers and ranchers who have borrowed a record amount of debt, as well as the banks that made loans to them and the governments that tax them. It will almost certainly lead to more farm foreclosures and ownership consolidation across Kansas and the country. How much is impossible to know, because it is just starting to unfold. But, so far, no one is saying that a return to the mass foreclosures of the 1980s farm crisis is likely. The state’s farm economy produced about $8.5 billion in 2015, about 6% of the state economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

At the moment, farm foreclosures, loan delinquency and debt-to-asset ratios are near record lows, but conditions are eroding. A recent forecast by Mykel Taylor, a farm economist at Kansas State University, calls for a drop of 30 to 50% from the peak as land prices return to their long-term trend. Others are predicting somewhat less of a drop. Brokers say the decline has already started, with the price for prime Kansas crop ground down about 10% from its peak, while marginal crop land has fallen twice or three times that. Pasture land has not fallen yet, although it is expected to. How fast prices deflate will dictate the level of pain, Taylor said. “People keep asking: ‘Is this like the ’80s? Is this like the ’80s?’ ” she said. “I don’t know, but it’s going to be bad.”

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NATO is an increasingly dangerous entity. It’ll take us to war. That’s its reason to exist.

NATO Moves Ever Closer To Russia’s Borders (RT)

NATO is deploying an additional four battalions of 4,000 troops in Poland and the three Baltic States, according to a report citing US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work. Work confirmed the number of troops to be sent to the border with Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports. He said the reason for the deployment is Russia’s multiple snap military exercises near the Baltics States. “The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops,” Work said. “From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.” Although there have already been talks about German troops to be deployed to Lithuania, Berlin is still mulling its participation.

“We are currently reviewing how we can continue or strengthen our engagement on the alliance’s eastern periphery,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in light of a recent poll from the Bertelsmann Foundation that found only 31% of Germans would welcome the idea of German troops defending Poland and the Baltic States. London has not made its mind either, yet is expected to do so before the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Ahead of the deployment, NATO officials are also discussing the possibility of making the battalions multinational, combining troops from different countries under the joint NATO command and control system. Moscow has been unhappy with the NATO military buildup at Russia’s borders for some time now.

“NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia’s borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders. In fact, NATO borders are getting closer to Russia, not the opposite,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter daily. Poland and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have regularly pressed NATO headquarters to beef up the alliance’s presence on their territory. According to the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the permanent presence of large NATO formations at the Russian border is prohibited. Yet some voices in Brussels are saying that since the NATO troops stationed next to Russia are going to rotate, this kind of military buildup cannot be regarded as a permanent presence.

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How to kill a union in a few easy steps. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.

Austria, Germany Press EU To Prolong Border Controls (AFP)

Austria and Germany said on Saturday they were in talks with the European Union’s executive body to extend temporary border controls brought in last year to help stem the migrant flow. The measures – triggered in case of “a serious threat to public policy or internal security” – are due to expire on May 12. “I can confirm that we are having discussions with the EU Commission and our European partners about this,” Austrian interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP. Member states must “be able to continue carrying out controls on their borders,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a written statement to AFP. “Even if the situation along the Balkan route is currently calm, we are observing the evolution of the situation on the external borders with worry”.

His Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Sobotka, said checkpoints along the Hungarian border had been reinforced in late April after “a rise in people-smuggling activity”. “The introduction of a coordinated border management system with our neighbouring countries after the [May 12] deadline expires would be the first step in the direction of a joint European solution,” Sobotka said. The remarks came after German media had reported that several EU states were urging Brussels to extend the temporary controls inside the passport-free Schengen zone for at least six months. The EU allowed bloc members to introduce the restrictions after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees began trekking up the Balkans from Greece towards western and northern Europe last September.

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden have all clamped down on their frontiers as the continent battles its biggest migration crisis since the end of World War II. “We request that you put forward a proposal, which will allow those member states who consider it necessary to either extend or introduce the temporary border controls inside Schengen as of May 13,” the six countries said in a letter addressed to the EU, according to German newspaper Die Welt. A source close to the German government told AFP the letter would be sent on Monday.

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Doesn’t anybody have any decency left? Where is the UN?

Newborn Baby Among 99 Dead After Shipwrecks In Mediterranean (G.)

A newborn baby is among 99 people believed to have drowned in two separate shipwrecks off the Libyan coast this weekend, according to survivors who arrived in Italy. Twenty-six survivors were rescued by a commercial vessel after a rubber dinghy in which they were travelling sank in the Mediterranean on Friday, a few hours after departing from Sabratha in Libya. They were transferred to Italian coastguard ships before being brought ashore in Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The baby was among 84 people still missing on Saturday..

“The dinghy was taking on water, in very bad conditions. Many people had already fallen in the sea and drowned,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM spokesman in Italy. “They are all very shocked,” Di Giacomo said, adding they would receive psychological support in Lampedusa. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that after taking on water the boat broke into two pieces and 26 people were saved from the sea. Survivors from a second shipwreck arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Sunday, after an accident during a search-and-rescue operation the day before. Two bodies were recovered and brought ashore along with eight of about 105 people saved, who were taken to hospital in serious condition.

The shipwrecks are the latest incidents in which hundreds of people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Last week, up to 500 people were feared dead after a shipping boat hoping to reach Italy from eastern Libya sank. Forty-one survivors told UNHCR that smugglers had taken them out to sea and tried to move them to a larger, overcrowded boat that then capsized. So far this year, at least 1,360 people have been reported dead or missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean, including the latest two shipwrecks, while more than 182,800 have reached European shores.

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Aug 052015
 


NPC Shoomaker’s saloon at 1311 E Street N.W. Washington DC 1917

A Turkish Couple Spent Their Wedding Day Feeding 4,000 Syrian Refugees (i100)
The Devastation in Global Commodity Currencies is Far From Over (Bloomberg)
Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart: Fed ‘Close’ to Being Ready to Raise Rates (WSJ)
The Oil Crash Has Caused a $1.3 Trillion Wipeout (Bloomberg)
Chinese Brokers Halt Short Selling as Regulators Tighten Rules (Bloomberg)
Greece Needs €100 Billion Debt Relief As Permanent Depression Looms (Telegraph)
Keiser Report: Summer Solutions featuring Prof. Steve Keen (Max Keiser)
Greek Police’s Cyber Crime Unit To Investigate Varoufakis Plan (Kathimerini)
Greece And Lenders Strike Upbeat Tone, Deal Seen On Bailout (Reuters)
Short Seller Yu ‘Wildly Bullish’ on Greece in Euro Exit Scenario (Bloomberg)
After The Greek Crisis, It’s Time For A New Deal On Debt (Kenneth Rogoff)
Germans Get Debt Relief Twice in 20th Century, But Demand Greeks Pay Up (TRN)
In Cash-Starved Greece, Plastic Casts Light Into Shadow Economy (Bloomberg)
The Failure of Politics: Merkel’s Euro Debacle (Daniel Stelter)
Europe Needs Major Investment To Avoid Another Greece (Delors/Enderlein)
America’s Un-Greek Tragedies in Puerto Rico and Appalachia (Paul Krugman)
Misery Deepens For Those In Puerto Rico Who Can’t Leave (AP)
Puerto Rico Has Another Debt Worry on the Horizon (NY Times)
‘Perfect Storm’ Engulfing Canada’s Economy Perfectly Predictable (Tyee)
Tony Blair Could Face Trial Over ‘Illegal’ Iraq War: Jeremy Corbyn (Guardian)
Americans Killed 20% Of North Korea’s Population In Three Years (Fisher)
Carbon Tax, Cap And Trade Don’t Work (Topple)
The Migrant Crisis in Calais Exposes a Europe Without Ideas (NY Times)

“We started our journey to happiness with making others happy..”

A Turkish Couple Spent Their Wedding Day Feeding 4,000 Syrian Refugees (i100)

A Turkish couple who got married last week invited 4,000 Syrian refugees to celebrate with them. Fethullah Uzumcuoglu and Esra Polat tied the knot in Kilis province on the Syrian border, which is currently home to thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in the neighbouring country. It’s traditional for Turkish weddings to last between Tuesday to Thursday, culminating in a banquet on the last night, but this couple decided they wanted a celebration with a difference. Hatice Avci, a spokesperson for aid organisation Kimse Yok Mu, told i100.co.uk that the charity feeds around 4,000 refugees who live in and around the town of Kilis, but last Thursday the newlyweds donated the savings their families had put together for a party to share their wedding celebrations with the refugees living nearby instead.

It was the groom’s father, Ali Uzumcuoglu, who originally had the idea to share a bit of wedding joy with those less fortunate. The bride and groom helped distribute the meal themselves and took their wedding pictures with people at the camp, according to local media. Groom Fethullah Uzumcuoglu said that he’d never taken part in something like this before but it was the “best and happiest moment of my life”: “Seeing the happiness in the eyes of the Syrian refugee children is just priceless. We started our journey to happiness with making others happy and that’s a great feeling.” Fethullah said that his friends were so inspired by the day that they’re planning on similar events for their own weddings.

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Bloodbath in the making.

The Devastation in Global Commodity Currencies is Far From Over (Bloomberg)

A bounce in crude oil and other commodity prices Tuesday halted a plunge in currencies of countries linked to natural-resource exports. The respite will be short-lived, according to OppenheimerFunds. The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars are off to the worst start to a year since the financial crisis. The nations are grappling with a 29% drop in raw-material prices amid swelling supplies and slowing demand in China. Next up, they’ll have to contend with the Federal Reserve’s plan to raise interest rates this year, which is forecast to boost the U.S. dollar. “Compared to the U.S. talk about raising rates and tightening policy, the commodity currencies are going in the exact opposite direction,” Alessio de Longis at OppenheimerFunds said. “These currencies are not cheap by any means.”

Even as the Reserve Bank of Australia held interest rates steady and spurred a currency bounce, de Longis said he expects central banks in the commodity-exporting nations to continue easing monetary policy, sending their currencies tumbling versus the greenback.
He projected the Canadian dollar will weaken 14% in the next one to three years. He estimated the Aussie will fall in the same timeframe to 60 cents per U.S. dollar and the kiwi to drop to 50 cents. The Bloomberg Commodity Index fell to a 13-year low Monday after Chinese manufacturing gauges slowed, clouding the outlook for demand. In contrast, the U.S. currency has rallied against all 16 major peers in the past 12 months on signs that the Fed is getting closer to raising rates. “Caution is still in order as today’s Aussie gains are corrective in nature,” Marc Chandler at Brown Brothers Harriman said in a note. “It is obvious that RBA policy must remain accommodative.”

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The Fed just writes its own narrative no matter what anyone says.

Atlanta Fed’s Lockhart: Fed ‘Close’ to Being Ready to Raise Rates (WSJ)

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said the economy is ready for the first increase in short-term interest rates in more than nine years and it would take a significant deterioration in the data to convince him not to move in September. “I think there is a high bar right now to not acting, speaking for myself,” Mr. Lockhart said. He is among the first officials to speak publicly since the Fed’s policy meeting last week, at which the central bank dropped new hints that a rate increase is coming closer into view, a point he sought to underscore. Mr. Lockhart is watched closely in financial markets because he tends to be a centrist among Fed officials who moves with the central bank’s consensus, unlike those who stake out harder positions for or against changing interest rates.

His comments are among the clearest signals yet that Fed officials are seriously considering a rate increase in September. “It will take a significant deterioration in the economic picture for me to be disinclined to move ahead,” he said at a conference table in a room adjacent to his Atlanta office. His comments follow those of James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed, who said in an interview with the Journal on Friday, “we are in good shape” for a rate increase in September. The Fed has held its benchmark federal-funds rate near zero since December 2008 to try to spur borrowing, spending and investment. Most central bank officials, including Chairwoman Janet Yellen, have indicated they expect to start raising the rate this year, but they haven’t decided as a group on when to start.

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Such an awfully conservative estimate it’s simple useless.

The Oil Crash Has Caused a $1.3 Trillion Wipeout (Bloomberg)

It’s the oil crash few saw coming, and few have been spared as it erased $1.3 trillion, the equivalent of Mexico’s annual GDP, in little more than a year. Take billionaire Carl Icahn. When crude was at its peak in June 2014, the activist investor’s stake in Chesapeake Energy was worth almost $2 billion. Today, oil has lost more than half its value, Chesapeake is the worst performer in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and Icahn has a paper loss of $1.3 billion. The S&P 500, by contrast, is up 6.9% in that time. State pension funds and insurance companies have also been hard hit. Investment advisers, who manage the mutual funds and exchange-traded products that are staples of many retirement plans, had $1.8 trillion tied to energy stocks in June 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The hit has been huge,” said Chris Beck at Delaware Investments, an asset management firm in Philadelphia. “Everybody was thinking that oil would stay in the $90 to $100 a barrel range.” The California Public Employees Retirement System, a $303 billion fund that provides benefits to 1.72 million people, owned a $91.8 million slice of Pioneer Natural Resources in June 2014. At the time, Pioneer was a $33 billion company and one of the biggest shale producers in Texas. Today, Pioneer is worth $19 billion and Calpers’ stake has lost about $40 million in market value.

Since June 2014, the combined market capitalization of 157 energy companies listed in the MSCI World Energy Sector Index or the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent Explorers & Producers Index has lost about $1.3 trillion. If crude rebounds, investors may make some of their money back, though values may not recover as quickly as they fell. After the tech bubble burst in 2000, erasing $7 trillion from the Nasdaq Composite Index, it took almost 15 years for the market to return to its pre-crash level. Oil, which lost more than half its value in the past year, will rise less than $20 through the first quarter of 2016, according to the median estimate compiled by Bloomberg.

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Shorts allow for price discovery.

Chinese Brokers Halt Short Selling as Regulators Tighten Rules (Bloomberg)

Some Chinese brokerages have halted their short-selling businesses after the nation’s regulators tightened rules to freeze out day traders in a fresh bid to arrest a stock-market plunge. Citic Securities, China’s largest brokerage by revenue, is among firms that temporarily stopped short selling by clients after the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges unveiled a new measure requiring investors who borrow shares to wait one day to repay the loans. Short selling was suspended to facilitate the adoption of the rule and will resume once the system has adjusted, Citic said in a statement Tuesday. Huatai Securities, Guosen Securities and Great Wall Securities also said they have suspended the practice.

The new T+1 rule on short selling prevents investors from selling and buying back stocks on the same day, a practice that may “increase abnormal fluctuations in stock prices and affect market stability,” the Shenzhen exchange said Monday after the close of trading. China is taking unprecedented measures to stem a stock rout that has wiped almost $4 trillion in market value since mid-June. Exchanges have frozen 38 trading accounts, including one owned by Citadel Securities, as authorities probe whether algorithmic traders are causing disruptions. On Monday, Shanghai’s stock exchange warned two trading accounts for making a “large amount of sell orders affecting security prices or volume.”

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€100 billion won’t be nearly enough and they know it.

Greece Needs €100 Billion Debt Relief As Permanent Depression Looms (Telegraph)

Greece needs a debt write-down of almost €100bn (£70bn) if the country is to stand a chance of clawing its way out of a “prolonged and severe depression”, according to a leading think-tank. In a stark analysis, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) laid bare the impact of VAT hikes and strict budget targets that it said could become “self-defeating”. As Greek bank shares saw a third of their value wiped-off for a second day, NIESR’s analysis showed Greece’s economy will slump back into recession this year and next. By the end of 2016, the economy is forecast to be 30pc smaller than at its peak in 2007 and 7pc smaller than before it joined the euro in 2001.

“We don’t see Greece getting back to the level it was when it joined the euro in 2001, let alone anywhere near where it was before this crisis struck, so this is a prolonged and severe depression for Greece,” said Jack Meaning, research fellow at NIESR. Economists said Greece’s creditors would need to write-off or restructure €95bn of its €320bn debt pile, or around 55pc of gross domestic product (GDP), in order to reduce its debt stock to around 130pc of GDP, from a projection of 186.9pc this year. NIESR said this would make an IMF debt target of 120pc of GDP by 2020 – which it considers to be the maximum sustainable level – “at least possible”.

The think-tank’s forecasts showed the economy is expected to contract by 3pc in 2015 and 2.3pc in 2016, remaining in recession until the second half of 2016. Under current projections, Greece’s economy is not expected to get back to its pre-euro size until the first half of 2023. Simon Kirby, principle research fellow at NIESR, said: “You have to go back to the Great Depression to find economies hit harder by crisis. The 1920s were bad enough for the UK and that was nowhere near this.” Mr Meaning said there remained a “large chance” of a Greek exit fom the single currency, with VAT hikes likely to hit the economy more than suggested by ordinary fiscal multipliers. “Certainly, as the prospects for Greece deteriorate while inside the euro area, questions over Greece remaining a member will persist,” NIESR said.

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Absolutely absolutely excellent. Don’t miss Steve’s very clear points on debt. The seesaw metaphor: Germany asks Greece why they’re not up, and Greece replies: because you are!

Keiser Report: Summer Solutions featuring Prof. Steve Keen (Max Keiser)

In this summer solutions episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert are joined by Professor Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics, to discuss the problem of household debt and an overly large finance sector. They discuss possible solutions, such as perhaps ending the practice of subsidizing too-big-to-fail banks.

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Yada yada yada.

Greek Police’s Cyber Crime Unit To Investigate Varoufakis Plan (Kathimerini)

Ilias Zagoraios, the chief prosecutor of the Athens First Instance Court, has asked Greece’s cyber crime unit to investigate whether the public revenues service was hacked as part of an effort to create a parallel payment system under ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. The former minister has claimed that he talked to a ministry employee about hacking into the General Secretariat for Public Revenues’ online system during alleged attempts to create a scheme that would help the government overcome liquidity problems. Varoufakis did not clarify whether this breach took place. However, his claims prompted an internal investigation by the general secretary for public revenues, Katerina Savvaidou. Now, a second probe will be carried out by the cyber crime unit, which should be able to provide its findings to Zagoraios before Savvaidou completes her investigation.

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Greece is going to haul in the cash. What happens after is a whole different story.

Greece And Lenders Strike Upbeat Tone, Deal Seen On Bailout (Reuters)

Both Greece and its lenders said on Tuesday they were optimistic they could broker a deal within days on a multi-billion euro bailout, striking a surprisingly upbeat tone on a process previously fraught with bitterness. A bailout worth up to €86 billion must be settled by Aug. 20 – or a second bridge loan agreed – if Greece is to pay off debt of €3.5 billion to the ECB that matures on that day. Wrapping up a day of talks in Athens, Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said negotiations were going better than expected. In Brussels, a Commission official said they were ‘encouraged’ by progress. “We are moving in the right direction and intense work is continuing,” Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told Reuters.

It will be the indebted nation’s third bailout since 2010, designed to stave off bankruptcy and keep the country from toppling out of the euro zone. Negotiations have been tortuous in the past, bogged down in minutiae of reforms ranging from pensions to shop opening hours. Over much of this year they were also peppered with angry outbursts about responsibility, sovereignty and even blackmail. However, sources on the creditors’ side briefed on negotiations described the Greeks as being “very, very cooperative” in talks which resumed in the last week of July after weeks of deadlock over bailout terms. “They (the Greeks) are really working now,” one euro zone official said. “I think (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras has told his ministers to cooperate.”

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“The potential boost of confidence and hope they inspire when they leave the euro is vastly underestimated. We don’t live in a world merely dictated by numbers and stats. Confidence and hope matter.”

Short Seller Yu ‘Wildly Bullish’ on Greece in Euro Exit Scenario (Bloomberg)

Daniel Yu, best known for betting against companies via his short-selling firm Gotham City, says he’s waiting in the wings for Greece to leave the euro – so he can start buying. The short seller shot to fame by claiming to expose dubious practices at companies, and says that won’t change any time soon. But now, he’s eyeing Greek shares in the event the country repudiates its debt and exits the shared currency. When, not if, all of that happens, stocks will rise again, he says. “I’m going to be wildly bullish if they leave, I’ll look at anything and everything Greek,” Yu said by phone from New York. “If Greece leaves the euro, it basically means they’re not going to pay their debt, and that’s a good thing. Once you have debt relief, there are so many positive things that can happen to an economy.”

Recently back from a trip to Greece, Yu says the plight of the Mediterranean nation has now caught his attention. With the country running out of money, the IMF and many economists agree that its debt is too large for it to pay. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surrendered to the demands of its creditors in a July summit billed as Greece’s last chance to stay in the euro, but he said he capitulated because leaving the currency would have been too destructive. Choosing to remain anonymous until recently, Yu made waves last year after a bearish call on Let’s Gowex. The Madrid Wi-Fi provider filed for insolvency about a week after Gotham said the stock was worthless because it inflated revenue. In April 2014, Yu triggered a 39% one-day drop in Quindell, a U.K. technology company, after questioning its profits.

Famed short sellers making bullish calls is becoming somewhat of a trend: Jon Carnes, ranked the best short worldwide, said last month that he sees the Shanghai Composite Index more than doubling. Carson Block, the founder of Muddy Waters LLC, sent France’s Bollore Group soaring in February after betting the stock could double. In Greece, Yu will likely find plenty of bargains. Its stock market, which just reopened after a five-week shutdown, has already lost more than 85% of its value since 2007. A gauge tracking its banks trades at a record low, down for a sixth year. “The tidal wave is a Grexit, it needs to happen,” Yu said. “The potential boost of confidence and hope they inspire when they leave the euro is vastly underestimated. We don’t live in a world merely dictated by numbers and stats. Confidence and hope matter.”

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We simply need a way for sovereigns to restructure their debt. Or they’ll default for no good reason.

After The Greek Crisis, It’s Time For A New Deal On Debt (Kenneth Rogoff)

The IMF’s acknowledgement that Greece’s debt is unsustainable could prove to be a watershed moment for the global financial system. Clearly, heterodox policies to deal with high debt burdens need to be taken more seriously, even in some advanced countries. Ever since the onset of the Greek crisis, there have been basically three schools of thought. First, there is the view of the troika, which holds that the eurozone’s debt-distressed periphery (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain) requires strong policy discipline to prevent a short-term liquidity crisis from morphing into a long-term insolvency problem. The orthodox policy prescription was to extend conventional bridge loans to these countries, thereby giving them time to fix their budget problems and undertake structural reforms aimed at enhancing their long-term growth potential.

This approach has “worked” in Spain, Ireland, and Portugal, but at the cost of epic recessions. Moreover, there is a high risk of relapse in the event of a significant downturn in the global economy. The troika policy has, however, failed to stabilise, much less revive, Greece’s economy. A second school of thought also portrays the crisis as a pure liquidity problem, but views long-term insolvency as an outside risk at worst. The problem is not that the debt of countries on the eurozone’s periphery is too high, but that it has not been allowed to rise nearly high enough. This anti-austerity camp believes that even when private markets totally lost confidence in Europe’s periphery, northern Europe could easily have solved the problem by co-signing periphery debt, perhaps under the umbrella of Eurobonds backed ultimately by all (especially German) eurozone taxpayers.

The periphery countries should then have been permitted not only to roll over their debt, but also to engage in full-on countercyclical fiscal policy for as long as their national governments deemed necessary. In other words, for “anti-austerians,” the eurozone suffered a crisis of competence, not a crisis of confidence. Never mind that the eurozone has no centralised fiscal authority and only an incomplete banking union. Never mind moral-hazard problems or insolvency. And never mind growth-enhancing structural reforms. All of the debtors will be good for the money in the future, even if they have not always been reliable in the past. In any case, faster GDP growth will pay for everything, thanks to high fiscal multipliers. Europe passed up a free lunch.

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Nice piece of history.

Germans Get Debt Relief Twice in 20th Century, But Demand Greeks Pay Up (TRN)

Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Nehru University, discusses the economic history of Germany’s debt relief in both the 1930s and 1950s and why policies of growth rather than austerity led them to become an economic powerhouse.

DESVARIEUX: So let’s start off in the 1930s. How did Germany handle its debt crisis back then?

GHOSH: Well, remember that this is debt that Germany got essentially because it had to pay war reparations after it lost the first world war. And at that time many economists including John Maynard Keynes had said these reparations are simply too high. And the country will not be able to pay them. But what Germany had to do is to borrow so as to make these payments. And this of course became more and more difficult to manage. The U.S. had been lending Germany money to actually pay this, but when the U.S. had its crash in September ’29, it actually said that it was not going to actually give any more loans and wanted a repayment of the loans it had made. Now, this created all kinds of problems in Germany and the Weimar Republic, actually one of the reasons for its collapse was this.
In 1933 when the Nazis came to power, they unilaterally suspended all debt payments and basically defaulted on the debt.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Now, let’s fast forward to the 1950s. And this was a post-World War II environment. Germany was granted substantial debt relief. Is that right?

GHOSH: Absolutely. Now, remember that some of this debt was in fact pre-war debt, which was the debt that had been taken on by Germany and not paid since then, since 1933. But more than half of this was actually debt again from the U.S. which was part of the Marshall Plan. The United States after the second world war actually gave a lot of money to Western Europe for its reconstruction and recovery. In many countries it gave grants, but to Germany it gave loans. So more than half of German debt was Marshall Plan loans from the United States. It wasn’t just the war reparations stuff. And another large part of it was the debt that it had incurred in the pre-war period and hadn’t paid.

A group of creditors, about 20 creditors of Germany, which in fact ironically included Greece at the time, got together in negotiations in London in 1953, and they met between February and August in 1953. they ended up with something called the London Agreement, which basically gave Germany very astonishingly generous terms for restructuring its debt and repaying it. What they did is they cut this debt, which was a total of about $32 billion at the time, they cut it by half. And they cut both the pre-war and the post-war part. Most of it was done by the United States, but it was also done by the United Kingdom, and in fact by all the creditors together including Greece.

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Why money flows back into banks.

In Cash-Starved Greece, Plastic Casts Light Into Shadow Economy (Bloomberg)

Greece’s banking crisis is having at least one positive outcome, and it’s made of plastic. In a country where cash is king and undeclared transactions still make up about a quarter of the economy, about 1 million debit cards have been issued by banks since the government closed lenders for three weeks and imposed controls on euro bills. Emergency measures that some officials warned might spur the black market are showing signs of doing the opposite. Alpha Bank issued about 220,000 cards in July, more than all of last year, as mainly pensioners realized that they had to access their money at cash machines and elsewhere, said Leonidas Kasoumis, general manager for household lending.

Supermarket and gasoline sales paid by debit cards doubled in the wake of controls; usage in the countryside tripled, he said. “Capital controls were a big trigger,” Kasoumis said. “It’s good for merchants, because cash is limited; it’s good for banks because it reduces operational costs. But the best news is for the economy.” The restrictions on cash were introduced in late June as banks hemorrhaged money and were kept alive by a drip-feed from the ECB. Greeks can withdraw €420 a week, though there’s no limit on spending with debit cards provided the transaction is within the country. What’s occurred is a shift that’s unprecedented for a country with the smallest number of electronic payments per head in the EU, according to ECB figures.

The cash culture contributed to the country’s poor record in curbing the shadow economy and collecting taxes, one of the reasons that led Greece to seek its first bailout from its euro area partners and the IMF in 2010. The increase in cards coming into circulation will help combat that, as more buying and selling of goods and services goes through the books, according to Theodore Kalantonis at Eurobank. Until now, payments on plastic accounted for 6% of the total, one of the lowest rates in Europe, he said.

Demand from businesses for card payment systems has surged, even from non-traditional customers such as dentists and doctors, according to Kalantonis. The largest bank, National Bank of Greece, issued more than 400,000 debit cards during the last four weeks. The number of active Visa debit cards in Greece more than doubled in July from previous months, said Nikos Kabanopoulos, the country manager for Visa Europe. The company, which processes almost 60% of Greek point-of-sale card payments, saw a 135% increase in card transactions in the two weeks immediately after the capital controls were imposed, Kabanopoulos said. In 2014, spending on Visa cards was €1 for every €37 compared to €1 for €6 in Europe as a whole, he said.

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” It is only possible to deny the hard economical facts for a certain period of time.”

The Failure of Politics: Merkel’s Euro Debacle (Daniel Stelter)

In 2010, at the first and definitely not the last height of the euro crisis, Merkel and her team of advisors most probably had the following decision box in mind: How do we minimize the immediate political damage for us in Germany and how do we postpone the long-term political damage — even minimize it when it comes to pass? The short-term political damage would have been clear. Preventing an immediate, uncontrollable collapse of the eurozone was necessary as this would have caused huge financial losses and demolished Merkel`s domestic reputation. But it was also necessary to keep the German public’s illusion that the Euro would only bring benefits — and not lead to bailouts and transfers to other countries.

In addition, it would also have been highly unpopular to admit that, in reality, it was German banks (not Greece and the rest of the periphery countries) that had to be rescued. The former had given way too much credit to the latter and funded an unsustainable consumption boom in today’s crisis countries. Merkel aimed for the upper right box: Happy voters and postponing any damage. Politically, that was understandable enough. But her choice entailed no effective solution of the crisis. With more political courage on her part, she could have opted for a real solution in 2010. Such a solution required fixing the eurozone through a broad debt restructuring and mechanisms for more economic integration, which implies permanent transfers.

Of course, both of these components are highly unpopular among the German public – they were so then and are so today. Thus, she chose the “extend and pretend” option, still aiming for the upper right box hoping for a happy end and avoiding bad news today– by providing “credit” to already over indebted countries. At first it seemed to work. The German public accepted the conditional support and believed its leadership that no taxpayers’ money would be spent for other countries. The eurozone survived but it was not because of the politics implemented by European leaders but due to the ECB that did whatever it took to keep the Euro afloat. Unfortunately for Merkel, it didn’t last. It is only possible to deny the hard economical facts for a certain period of time. The latest effort to “rescue” Greece and the Euro made this transparent for everybody.

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The old “fathers of the euro” idealists still think they know just what to do. Here’s thinking someone else should clean up their mess.

Europe Needs Major Investment To Avoid Another Greece (Delors/Enderlein)

The good news to take from last month’s Greek debt deal is that Greece will remain inside the euro area. At the same time, the negotiations have shown the weaknesses of the single currency. It will take time to assess the full consequences, but in the aftermath of yet another last-minute decision, we see three main dangers and three fundamental challenges. The first danger is complacency. Many in Europe have an interest in looking at Greece as an isolated special case, but the Greek crisis is indicative of more fundamental disagreements on the functioning of the euro-area. If we are honest with ourselves, two key challenges remain unanswered: how to achieve greater risk-sharing and how to achieve greater sovereignty-sharing.

Minimising the consequences of the discussion with Greece would be paramount to not taking up those challenges. The second danger is to indulge in a lengthy blame game. Inevitably, some continue to say that this deal was forced by a certain vision of how the euro-area should function. Others say it is a consequence of the lack of cooperation by the Greek government. We do not believe such debates can contribute to a forward-looking discussion on how to integrate the euro area further and to complete European monetary union. The third danger is the continuation of muddling-through policies.

If Europe requires more sharing of sovereignty and more risk-sharing, the agreement with Greece is just another example of ad-hoc sovereignty-sharing with very limited legitimacy and of ad-hoc risk-sharing through opaque channels such as emergency liquidity assistance. The experience of past years shows that quick-fix solutions run the risk of neglecting the big-picture implications. In this context, the discussions surrounding Greece give rise to three specific challenges that we urge European policy-makers to take up with calm determination. We need a balanced combination of more investments, smart reforms and a quantum leap in integration, based in particular on much stronger Franco-German cooperation.

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Transfer union. Too late for Europe to establish one, and that dooms the euro.

America’s Un-Greek Tragedies in Puerto Rico and Appalachia (Paul Krugman)

On Friday the government of Puerto Rico announced that it was about to miss a bond payment. It claimed that for technical legal reasons this wouldn’t be a default, but that’s a distinction without a difference. So is Puerto Rico America’s Greece? No, it isn’t, and it’s important to understand why. Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis is basically the byproduct of a severe economic downturn. The commonwealth’s government was slow to adjust to the worsening fundamentals, papering over the problem with borrowing. And now it has hit the wall. What went wrong? There was a time when the island did quite well as a manufacturing center, boosted in part by a special federal tax break. But that tax break expired in 2006, and in any case changes in the world economy have worked against Puerto Rico.

These days manufacturing favors either very-low-wage nations, or locations close to markets that can take advantage of short logistic chains to respond quickly to changing conditions. But Puerto Rico’s wages aren’t low by global standards. And its island location puts it at a disadvantage compared not just with the U.S. mainland but with places like the north of Mexico, from which goods can be quickly shipped by truck. The situation is, unfortunately, exacerbated by the Jones Act, which requires that goods traveling between Puerto Rico and the mainland use U.S. ships, raising transportation costs even further. Puerto Rico, then, is in the wrong place at the wrong time. But here’s the thing: while the island’s economy has declined sharply, its population, while hurting, hasn’t suffered anything like the catastrophes we see in Europe.

Look, for example, at consumption per capita, which has fallen 30%in Greece but has actually continued to rise in Puerto Rico. Why have the human consequences of economic troubles been muted? The main answer is that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. fiscal union. When its economy faltered, its payments to Washington fell, but its receipts from Washington — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and more — actually rose. So Puerto Rico automatically received aid on a scale beyond anything conceivable in Europe.

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Just like Greece. So Krugman’s argument holds only to a point.

Misery Deepens For Those In Puerto Rico Who Can’t Leave (AP)

Nearly 10 years into a deep economic slump, Puerto Rico is no closer to pulling out, and, in fact, is poised to plummet further. The unemployment rate is above 12%. Some 144,000 people left the U.S. territory between 2010 and 2013, and about a third of all people born in Puerto Rico now live in the U.S. mainland. Schools and businesses have closed amid the exodus. The population of 3.5 million is expected to drop to 3 million by 2050. The government has tried to boost revenue by hiking the sales tax to 11.5%, higher than any U.S. state, and closing government offices. Its debt-burdened power utility already charges rates that on average are twice those of the mainland, and is under pressure from bondholders to raise them higher.

A $58 million bond payment due Monday went unpaid. If defaults continue, analysts say Puerto Rico will face numerous lawsuits and increasingly limited access to markets, putting a recovery even more out of reach. Carmen Davila, a 65-year-old retired truck driver and window dresser, recently withdrew her money from the bank amid fears the government would shut down and seize it. “Things are happening in Puerto Rico that we’ve never seen before,” Davila said. “Puerto Rico has always had its ups and downs, but you could handle it. This now is serious.” The exodus of people from the island, mainly to central Florida and New York, is palpable. Nearly everyone knows someone who has left, or plans to do so soon. The impact of the departures, and the decline in spending of those remaining, is obvious.

Crowds have thinned at restaurants and movie theaters; families like Davila’s have cut back on summer excursions to beaches and mountains; and even San Juan’s notorious traffic jams have dwindled somewhat. Jose Hernandez said his commute into San Juan’s colonial district, once about two hours, now takes roughly 20 minutes. The 62-year-old lottery vendor would join the departure, too, if not for the grandchildren he helps support – even though he recognizes doing so would only add to the trouble. “Fewer people means there are less of us to help boost the economy,” he said. “This is the worst I’ve seen it. … There are no people on the street. They’ve disappeared.”

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And, of course, worse to come.

Puerto Rico Has Another Debt Worry on the Horizon (NY Times)

While Puerto Rico’s first bond default in its history reverberated through the financial markets on Tuesday, another move by the cash-poor island may provide a clue to where the next trouble spot lies. After openly acknowledging on Monday afternoon that it had not made a $58 million bond payment, the government quietly disclosed in a financial filing later that afternoon that it had temporarily stopped making contributions of $92 million a month into a fund that is used to make payments on an additional $13 billion in bond debt. A small payment from the fund is due on Sept. 1. Unlike the bond payments that went into default on Monday, the ones coming due are on general obligation bonds — the kind many investors have been led to believe would never go into default because the issuer’s full faith, credit and taxing authority stand behind them.

Puerto Rico issued such bonds over the years to raise money for a variety of government projects, and investors bought them eagerly because the island’s constitution explicitly guaranteed that such bonds would be paid. The general obligation payment due to bondholders on Sept. 1 is for a mere $5 million, an amount so small that even if the redemption fund is empty at that point, Puerto Rico could still produce the cash right out of general revenue. It would presumably want to do so because of the constitutional requirement. But a much bigger payment on the general obligation bonds, about $370 million, comes due on Jan. 1. If Puerto Rico misses that one, “it would be an earthquake for the markets,” said Matt Fabian at Municipal Market Analytics. “Defaulting on the Public Finance Corporation bonds was a change in direction,” he said, referring to the government unit whose bonds have been in default since Monday. “Defaulting on the general obligation bonds would change the game entirely.”

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Absolutely. Could see it coming from miles and years away. “You have a resource economy that’s been blown apart sitting on top of a housing bubble..”

‘Perfect Storm’ Engulfing Canada’s Economy Perfectly Predictable (Tyee)

Economists, an irrational tribe of short-sighted mathematicians, are now calling Canada’s declining economic fortunes “a perfect storm.” It seems to be the only weather that complex market economies generate these days, or maybe such things are just another face of globalization. In any case, economists now lament that low oil prices have upended the nation’s trade balance: “Canada has posted trade deficits every month this year, and the cumulative 2015 total of $13.6 billion is a record, exceeding the next highest, in 2009, of $2.95 billion.” But this unique perfect storm gets darker. China, which Harperites eagerly embraced as the globe’s autocratic growth locomotive, has run out of steam.

As the country’s notorious industrial revolution unwinds, China’s stock market has imploded. Communist party cadres are now moving their money to foreign housing markets in places like Vancouver. Throughout the world, analysts no longer refer to bitumen as Canada’s destiny, but as a stranded asset. They view it as a poster child for over-spending, a symbol of climate chaos, a signature of peak oil and a textbook case of miserable energy returns. Nearly $60 billion worth of projects representing 1.6 million barrels of production were mothballed over the last year. A new analysis by oil consultancy Wood Mackenzie reveals that capital flows into the oilsands could drop by two-thirds in the next few years.

The Bank of Canada doesn’t describe the downturn led by oil’s collapse as a recession because the “R word” smacks of negative thinking or just plain reality. Surely lower interest rates will magically soften the consequences of a decade of bad resource policy decisions, Ottawa’s elites now reason. Meanwhile the loonie, another volatile petro-currency, has predictably dropped to its lowest value in six years along with the price of oil. A Wall Street short seller sums up the mess better than the mathematicians. “You have a resource economy that’s been blown apart sitting on top of a housing bubble,” Marc Cohodes told Maclean’s magazine. “That’s a toxic mix.” And so my editor asked me to write this sentence: I told you so.

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That’d be good. But the Chilcot report is still not out.

Tony Blair Could Face Trial Over ‘Illegal’ Iraq War: Jeremy Corbyn (Guardian)

Tony Blair should stand trial on charges of war crimes if the evidence suggests he broke international law over the “illegal” Iraq war in 2003, the Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn has said. Corbyn called on the former prime minister to “confess” the understandings he reached with George W Bush in the run up to the invasion. Asked on BBC Newsnight whether Blair should stand trial on war crimes charges, Corbyn said: “If he has committed a war crime, yes. Everybody who has committed a war crime should be.” The veteran MP for Islington North was a high-profile opponent of the war and became a leading member of the Stop the War coalition. He said: “It was an illegal war. I am confident about that.

Indeed Kofi Annan [UN secretary general at the time of the war] confirmed it was an illegal war and therefore [Tony Blair] has to explain to that. Is he going to be tried for it? I don’t know. Could he be tried for it? Possibly.” Corbyn said he expects the eventual publication of the Chilcot report will force Blair to explain his discussions with President Bush in the runup to the war. He said: “The Chilcot report is going to come out sometime. I hope it comes out soon. I think there are some decisions Tony Blair has got to confess or tell us what actually happened. What happened in Crawford, Texas, in 2002 in his private meetings with George [W] Bush. Why has the Chilcot report still not come out because – apparently there is still debate about the release of information on one side or the other of the Atlantic.
At that point Tony Blair and the others that have made the decisions are then going to have to deal with the consequences of it.”

On Newsnight, Corbyn made clear that he is opposed to British involvement in air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. Prime minister David Cameron is hoping to win parliamentary support to extend Britain’s involvement in the aerial bombing of Isis targets from Iraq to Syria. Corbyn said: “I would want to isolate Isis. I don’t think going on a bombing campaign in Syria is going to bring about their defeat. I think it would make them stronger. I am not a supporter of military intervention. I am a supporter of isolating Isis and bringing about a coalition of the region against them.”

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“..the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II.”

Americans Killed 20% Of North Korea’s Population In Three Years (Fisher)

Perhaps no country on Earth is more misunderstood by Americans than North Korea. Though the country’s leaders are typically portrayed as buffoonish, even silly, in fact they are deadly serious in their cruelty and skill at retaining power. Though the country is seen as Soviet-style communist, in fact it is better understood as a holdover of Japanese fascism. And there is another misconception, one that Americans might not want to hear but that is important for understanding the hermit kingdom: Yes, much of its anti-Americanism is cynically manufactured as a propaganda tool, and yes, it is often based on lies. But no, it is not all lies. The US did in fact do something terrible, even evil to North Korea, and while that act does not explain, much less forgive, North Korea’s many abuses since, it is not totally irrelevant either.

That act was this: In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry. For Americans, the journalist Blaine Harden has written, this bombing was “perhaps the most forgotten part of a forgotten war,” even though it was almost certainly “a major war crime.” Yet it shows that North Korea’s hatred of America “is not all manufactured,” he wrote. “It is rooted in a fact-based narrative, one that North Korea obsessively remembers and the United States blithely forgets.” And the US, as Harden recounted in a column earlier this year, knew exactly what it was doing:

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off – what – 20% of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.

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100% correct. Cap and trade is a ponzi game.

Carbon Tax, Cap And Trade Don’t Work (Topple)

Dear Editor, With a federal election coming in October, it is important that Canadians be aware of the candidates’ positions on climate change, formerly called global warming. Most scientists believe that our planet is heating up due to our burning of fossil fuels, thereby causing severe changes to our climate and weather. A minority of scientists attribute climate change to our sun. But politicians are openly speaking of how to address this matter. Some advocate a carbon tax, which would be a straight tax for carbon emissions on consumers and producers. Other politicians call for a cap-and-trade system in carbon, which would raise the price of carbon through a type of stock market in carbon credits. These two proposals would enrich governments and financial elites, and seriously drive up the price of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and the products we make using them.

This has happened in Europe along with much corruption, job loss and economic burdens. The United Nations Panel on Climate Change has called for $120 billion per year through carbon tax or cap-and-trade programs to be transferred by us to developing countries to allow them to catch up to us in development and to address carbon reduction later. Many of these countries are unaccountable dictatorships. If this sounds like a massive wealth transfer, it is. We are already losing many jobs due to the high cost of electricity driven by billions of dollars in subsidies for useless windmills and solar panels, with companies leaving Ontario for cheaper locations. This would multiply and worsen under a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system.

As for Canada, we contribute 1.6 per cent to the world’s carbon dioxide, and our Alberta oil sands contribute .001 per cent. We are a vast northern nation that requires fossil fuels and electricity to heat our homes and to travel. Yet we are targeted by climate change advocates, even though nations such as China and India far outweigh our carbon emissions, and are not targeted for such emissions. In fact, those nations burn overwhelming amounts of dirty coal and yet we are expected to transfer our jobs and money to them.

If carbon dioxide is such a threat to our planet, then why can developing nations be allowed to continue to pour carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere? And why, under the proposed carbon tax or cap-and-trade, can western companies and elites pay a fine for carbon emissions without reducing them? That is a very costly double standard. Canada cannot afford the economic turmoil and job loss that would occur with the so-called remedies to climate change or global warming. Beware of politicians that advocate this economically disastrous proposal.

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Nah, a Europe without morals.

The Migrant Crisis in Calais Exposes a Europe Without Ideas (NY Times)

Europe is caught between those who want to get in, those who want to get out, and those who want to destroy it. The incomers are desperate, the outbound are angry and the destroyers are brandishing flags. This triple onslaught has, for the first time in its history, left the 28-member European Union more vulnerable to fracture than it is susceptible to further integration. A near borderless Europe at peace constitutes the great achievement of the second half of the 20th century. That you can go from Germany to Poland across a frontier near effaced and scarcely imagine the millions slaughtered seven decades ago is testament to the accomplishment. The European Union is the dullest miracle on earth. This Europe is not at immediate risk of disintegration. But it is fraying.

Let’s start with those who want to get in. They have nothing to lose because they have lost everything. In many cases they are from Afghanistan (at war since anyone can remember), from Syria (four million refugees and counting), Somalia, Iraq, Eritrea, the Maghreb or elsewhere in Africa. At the end of odysseys involving leaking boats and looting traffickers, these migrants are forcing their way into the Channel Tunnel. They have blocked traffic and commerce. They have provoked a flare-up of that perennial condition called Anglo-French friction. They have drawn the ire of The Daily Mail (trumpet for a lot of what’s worst in Britain). The paper thinks it may be time to deploy the army. But bringing in the military, or building walls, will resolve nothing.

The 3,000 or so desperate people in Calais are part of a far bigger phenomenon. More than 100,000 refugees or migrants have entered Europe across the Mediterranean so far this year. A not insignificant number have drowned. War, oppression, persecution and economic hardship — combined with the magnetic accessibility even in the world’s poorest recesses of images of prosperity and security — have created a vast migratory wave. From Milan’s central train station to the streets of Calais its impact is apparent. Give me some of that, the disinherited proclaim. Europe has mostly shrugged. Piecemeal small-mindedness, in 28 national iterations, has been the name of the game. There has been no unity or purpose.

After much hand-wringing and wrangling, and pressure from hard-pressed Italy, European leaders did agree to share the “burden” of some 40,000 refugees, a paltry number. More than 3.5 million refugees are now in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, countries far less prosperous than European nations. A continent’s shame is written in the migrants’ misery.

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 August 3, 2015  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Alexander Gardner Ruins of Gallego Mills after Great Fire, Richmond, VA 1865

Asian Stocks Selloff Deepens To 2015 Lows On China Worry (Reuters)
Greek Stock Market Opens 23% Down After Five-Week Shutdown (Reuters, AFP)
Banks Lead Greek Stock Slump In First Day Of Trading After Closure (Bloomberg)
Greek Shares ‘Set To Plunge 20%’ As Stock Exchange Reopens (BBC)
Greek Manufacturing Slumps at Record Pace as Crisis Takes Toll (Bloomberg)
French Finance Minister Takes Aim At Schäuble Over Grexit Idea (Reuters)
Germans Fret Over Europe’s Future But Still Believe (Reuters)
Head Of Greek Statistics Office ELSTAT Steps Down (Reuters)
In Conversation With El Pais (Varoufakis)
Varoufakis Warns Spain Could ‘Become Greece’ (AFP)
“They Bury The Values Of Democracy”- Varoufakis (Stern)
Debt Traders Flee Junkyard’s Dogs as Oil Rout Extends Yield Gap (Bloomberg)
Galbraith Denies Being Part Of Plan B For Greece ‘Criminal Gang’ (Telegraph)
Emerging Markets’ Material Difficulties (Economist)
Puerto Rico Set For Debt Default (FT)
Harper Calls October 19 Election With Canada’s Economy On The Ropes (Bloomberg)
Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later (NY Times)
They Are Not Migrant Hordes, But People, And Probably Nicer Than Us (Mirror)

All gains are gone. And they were big.

Asian Stocks Selloff Deepens To 2015 Lows On China Worry (Reuters)

An index of Asian shares outside Japan fell close to this year’s lows on Monday thanks to a deepening selloff in commodities and fresh concerns over slowing growth in China, while the dollar held its ground against a basket of currencies. In line with weaker Asian stocks, financial spreadbetters expected a slightly lower open for Britain’s FTSE, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC. In a blow to risk sentiment, a private survey showed China’s factory activity shrank more than initially estimated in July, contracting by the most in two years as new orders fell. “We believe the stock market panic in early July chilled economic activity, which is what the manufacturing PMIs picked up,” ING economist Tim Condon said in a research note ahead of the Caixin PMI release.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell more than 1% before paring losses to be down 0.9%. The biggest losers were financials and cyclicals. The index’s low for this year was on July 8. Closely-watched Shanghai shares shed 1.9%. Japan’s Nikkei slid 0.3% and South Korea’s Kospi fell 1%. Australian stocks dropped 0.4%. “We believe the macro environment remains challenging for emerging market assets amid headwinds of low commodity prices, concerns over China and a looming Fed tightening cycle,” Barclays strategists wrote in a daily note in clients. Recent flows data confirmed that trend. Net foreign selling from emerging Asia has reached nearly $10 billion over the past two months with only India seeing some tiny inflows. Although outflows have pummeled stock markets from Korea to Taiwan, valuations suggest more downside is likely.

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No surprises here.

Greek Stock Market Opens 23% Down After Five-Week Shutdown (Reuters, AFP)

Greece’s stock market fell sharply on Monday after being shut down for five weeks under capital controls imposed by the government in Athens to stop a flight of euros from the country. The main index was down nearly 23% in early trading. National Bank of Greece, the country’s largest commercial bank, was down 30%, the daily limit. The overall banking index was also down its limit. “Naturally, pressure is expected, markets will not fail to comment on such an extensive shutdown,” Constantine Botopoulos, head of the capital markets commission, told Skai radio. “But we must not get carried away. We must wait until the end of the week to see how the reopening will begin to be dealt with more coolly.” The bourse was last open for trading on June 26.

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The rest of the week is more interesting: will they recover?

Banks Lead Greek Stock Slump In First Day Of Trading After Closure (Bloomberg)

Lenders led a record plunge in Greek equities as the Athens Stock Exchange reopened after a five-week shutdown, with restrictions in place due to capital controls. Piraeus Bank and National Bank of Greece sank 30%, the maximum allowed by the Athens bourse. The benchmark ASE Index slumped a record 22% to 622.6 at 11:09 a.m. in Athens. “The situation in Greek equity markets will have to get a lot worse before it gets better,” said Luca Paolini, Pictet Asset Management’s chief strategist in London. “There are still critical risks to be resolved.” The exchange suspension came as Greek stocks had begun enjoying some renewed optimism after losing 85% of their value since 2007. The ASE rebounded 17% from its almost three-year low in June through the suspension.

That trimmed its loss to 3.5% this year until June 26, the last day the exchange was open. The Greek market came to a halt in June as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ended bailout talks with creditors by asking voters to decide in a referendum whether to accept the terms offered in exchange for emergency loans. The nation was forced to shut banks and impose capital controls. The stock exchange remained closed, recording its longest halt since the 1970s, even after lenders reopened on July 20 with limited services, as Greek officials worked on rules to reopen the bourse with capital controls in place.

With bank withdrawals limited, Greek traders will only be able to buy stocks, bonds, derivatives and warrants with new money such as funds transferred from abroad, cash-only deposits, money earned from the future sale of shares or from existing investment account balances held at Greek brokerages, the Finance Ministry said in a decree on Friday. No such constraints will apply to foreign investors, provided they were already active in the market before the imposition of capital controls. During the shutdown, investors used a U.S.-listed exchange- traded fund as a proxy for Greek stocks. The Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF fell 17% from June 26 through Friday. The fund plunged a record 19% the first day stocks in Athens were suspended. It advanced 2.6% on Friday.

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The BBC predicted it last night.

Greek Shares ‘Set To Plunge 20%’ As Stock Exchange Reopens (BBC)

The Athens Stock Exchange is set to plunge by as much as 20% on Monday when trading finally resumes after a five-week closure, traders have predicted. The bourse was shut just before the Greek government imposed capital controls at the height of the debt crisis. Traders said they expect sharp losses as a result of pent-up trading and fears about Greece’s worsening economy. Takis Zamanis, chief trader at Beta Securities, is among the pessimists. “The possibility of seeing even a single share rise in tomorrow’s session is almost zero,” he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty about the government’s ability to sign the… bailout on time and for possible snap elections.” Shares in banks are likely to be particularly hard-hit because Greece’s financial sector needs to be recapitalised.

A report in Avgi newspaper, which is close to the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, suggested Athens was asking for about 10 billion euros (£7bn) this month for bank recapitalisation. Banks account for about a fifth of the main Athens index. National Bank of Greece’s US-listed stock has fallen about 20% while the Athens exchange has been closed. One asset manager at a Greek fund said: “The focus will be in the bank shares – they will suffer more because their investors have to face a dilution from the [expected] recapitalisation of the sector.” Greek banks will not be make a profit this year and are suffering from an increase in bad loans due to the crisis, the manager said. “It would be realistic to expect a decline of about 15-20% at the opening of the market on Monday,” he added.

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Part of suffocating an economy.

Greek Manufacturing Slumps at Record Pace as Crisis Takes Toll (Bloomberg)

Greece’s manufacturing industry shrank at a record pace last month as demand collapsed amid capital controls introduced in an attempt to contain the nation’s crisis. Markit Economics said its factory Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 30.2 from 46.9 in June. A reading below 50 indicates contraction. A gauge of new orders plunged to 17.9 from 43.2, also a record low. Markit said survey respondents blamed capital controls and a “generally uncertain operating environment” for the loss of business. The plunge in the index reflects heightened concerns last month about Greece’s future in the euro area after a temporary breakdown in negotiations on a bailout deal.

“Although manufacturing represents only a small proportion of Greece’s total productive output, the sheer magnitude of the downturn sends a worrying signal for the health of the economy as a whole,” said Phil Smith, an economist at Markit in London. “Bank closures and capital restrictions badly hampered normal business activity.” The weak factory reading highlights the challenge Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces in reviving the shattered Greek economy, which has shrunk by about a quarter in the past six years. The country has already fallen back into a recession and the economy is forecast to contract this year.

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France should grow a pair.

French Finance Minister Takes Aim At Schäuble Over Grexit Idea (Reuters)

French finance minister Michel Sapin has criticized his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble for suggesting that Greece could temporarily leave the euro zone, but said the Franco-German relationship is “not broken”. In an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt, Sapin said Schaeuble was wrong to suggest the euro zone “time-out” – an idea the German finance minister floated last month during talks to clinch a deal to keep Greece in the bloc. “I think that Wolfgang Schaeuble is wrong and is even getting into conflict with his deep European volition,” Sapin said in an interview to run in Handelsblatt’s Monday edition.

“This volition, and it is also mine, involves strengthening the euro zone,” he said, adding that this ruled out the possibility of a temporary exit from the 19-member currency union. “If you allow a temporary departure, that means: every other country that finds itself in difficulties will want to get out of the affair via an adjustment of its currency,” Sapin added. The French minister said he nonetheless wanted to work with Schaeuble to foster closer euro zone integration by strengthening economic policy governance. However, treaty changes to introduce a European finance minister and a budget for the euro zone would not be possible before 2017, the paper reported Sapin as saying.

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How democratic is Europe? It just takes the first sentence of this article to know: “The battle for Europe will be won or lost in Germany.” A useless discussion from there on in.

Germans Fret Over Europe’s Future But Still Believe (Reuters)

The battle for Europe will be won or lost in Germany. On some days recently, it has looked like it might be lost. But that is to underestimate the deep German commitment to the success of European integration based on the rule of law. If the EU falls apart, it will likely be due to a return of nationalism and a refusal by the French, British and Dutch to share more sovereignty, rather than to German insistence on fiscal discipline and respect for the rules. “If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned parliament. The aftermath of the euro zone’s ugly all-night summit on the Greek debt crisis that ended on July 13 with a deal on stringent, intrusive terms for negotiating a third bailout has sent shockwaves across Europe, especially in Germany.

It was the second time in weeks that EU leaders had clashed over fundamental problems they seem unable to solve, after an acrimonious June summit on how to cope with a wave of migrants – many of them refugees from conflict – desperate to enter Europe. And it has prompted intensive head-scratching in Berlin about how to strengthen European institutions and underpin the euro more durably – an intellectual ferment unmatched in most other EU capitals. “When you tour European countries, there aren’t many that are thinking as hard as Germany about how to make an integrated Europe work better,” says a senior German official. Perhaps due to its World War Two history, Berlin is more open than most EU nations to offering shelter to war victims and accepted the largest quota of asylum seekers.

Nor was Merkel as tough as creditors such as Finland, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia in insisting on humiliating conditions for any further assistance to Greece. Yet like all leaders, Germany cops most of the blame. And due to its past, that is often laced with references to the Nazi tyranny that make present-day Germans cringe. That outcry was compounded when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble breached a taboo by suggesting that Greece should leave the euro zone, at least temporarily, if it could not meet the conditions. After decades of trying to be an unobtrusive team player in Europe or co-steering integration through the Franco-German tandem, Berlin was catapulted into an unwelcome solo leadership role by the euro zone debt crisis that began in 2010.

That extra burden of responsibility, due more to French weakness and British indifference than Teutonic ambition, has weighed heavily on Germans who fear it means others trying to pick their pockets without doing their own fair share.

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Curious to say the least.

Head Of Greek Statistics Office ELSTAT Steps Down (Reuters)

The head of the Greek statistics office stepped down on Sunday, adding new complexity to Greece’s bailout negotiations with its EU partners. A veteran IMF statistician, Andreas Georgiou was appointed head of ELSTAT in 2010 in an effort to restore the credibility of Greek statistics a few months after the country’s debt crisis erupted. “I have informed the finance minister of my decision not to accept the extension of my term … that ends today,” Georgiou told Reuters. Georgiou could have stayed on until a replacement was appointed, but he said he was not interested in having the finance minister renew his term and that it was a personal choice to leave.

He said he and his team had worked to make the statistics office independent, impartial, objective and transparent, sometimes against a series of “unsubstantiated and totally unfounded accusations”. In 2013, a prosecutor brought felony charges against Georgiou and two other agency employees, accusing them of falsifying 2009 fiscal data. A former ELSTAT employee had claimed that Georgiou had inflated the deficit numbers to justify austerity measures. He denied the accusation and the charge was dropped last month. In the run-up to joining the eurozone, which it did as a founder member in 2001, Greece under-reported its budget deficit for years.

Since then, unreliable statistics with frequent revisions were blamed in part for pushing the country to a financial crisis. Since Georgiou took over, however, the EU’s statistics office Eurostat has fully accepted the debt figures provided by Greece. The independence of ELSTAT remains a key concern as Greece seeks a new bailout from its EU partners. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed last Monday to the “safeguarding of the full legal independence of ELSTAT” as one of the conditions to achieve a third bailout.

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“Closing down the banks of a monetized economy is the worst form of monetary terrorism. It instills fear in people.”

In Conversation With El Pais (Varoufakis)

Fiscal waterboarding: I am very proud of this term. It is a precise, an accurate description of what has been happening for years now. What is waterboarding? You take a subject, you push his head in the water until he suffocates but, at some point, before death comes you stop. You pull the head out just in time, before asphyxiation is complete, you allow the subject to take a few deep breaths, and then you push the head again in the water. You repeat until he… confesses. Fiscal waterboarding, on the other hand, is obviously not physical, it’s fiscal. But the idea is the same and it is exactly what happened to successive Greek governments since 2010. Instead of air, Greek governments nursing unsustainable debts were starved of liquidity.

Facing payments to their creditors, or meeting its obligations, they were denied liquidity till the very last moment just before formal bankruptcy, until they ‘confessed’’; until they signed on agreements they knew to add new impetus on the real economy’s crisis. At that moment, the troika would provide enough liquidity, like they did now with the 7 billion the Greek government received in order to repay the… ECB and the IMF. Just like waterboarding, this liquidity, or ‘oxygen’, is calculated to be barely enough to keep the ‘subject’ going, without defaulting formally, but never more than that. And so the torture continues with the effect that the government remains completely under the troika’s control. This is how fiscal waterboarding functions and I cannot imagine a better and more accurate term to describe what has been going on.

On my use of the word ‘terror’, take the case of the referendum. On the 25th of June we were presented with a comprehensive proposal by the troika. We studied it with an open mind and concluded that it was a non-viable proposal. If we signed it, we would have definitely failed within 4-5 months and then Dr. Schäuble would say “See, you accepted conditions you could not fulfill”. The Greek government cannot afford to do this anymore. We need to reclaim our credibility by only signing agreements we can fulfill. So I said to my colleagues in the Eurogroup, on the 27th, that our team convened and decided that we could not accept this proposal, because it wouldn’t work. But at the same time, we are Europeanists and we don’t have a mandate, nor the will or interest, to clash with Europe. So we decided to put their proposal to the Greek people to decide.

And what did the Eurogroup do? It refused us an extension of a few weeks in order to hold this referendum in peace and instead they closed down our banks. Closing down the banks of a monetized economy is the worst form of monetary terrorism. It instills fear in people. Imagine if in Spain tomorrow morning the banks didn’t open because of a Eurogroup decision with which to force your government to agree to something untenable. Spaniards would be caught up in a vortex of monetary terror. What is terrorism? Terrorism is to pursue a political agenda through the spread of generalized fear. That is what they did. Meanwhile the Greek systemic media were terrorizing people to think that, if they voted No in the referendum, Armageddon would come. This was also a fear-based campaign. And this is what I said. Maybe people in Brussels don’t like it to hear the truth. If they refrained from trying to scare the Greek, then I would have refrained from using this term.

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Just vote Podemos.

Varoufakis Warns Spain Could ‘Become Greece’ (AFP)

Spain could become like Greece if the same austerity policies are imposed on the country, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview published Sunday. “Spaniards need to look at their own economic and social situation and based on that evaluate what their country needs, independently of what happens in Greece or wherever,” he told center-left daily El Pais. “The danger of becoming Greece is always there and it will become reality if the same mistakes that were imposed on Greece are repeated,” he added. Varoufakis, an economist with unorthodox ideas about the euro and Greece’s debt restructuring, resigned the day after Greeks voted against creditor bailout terms in a July 5 referendum.

The Greek government later accepted even harsher terms in a deal at an all-night eurozone summit on July 12-13. With a general election looming later this year, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has used the economic turbulence in Greece as a chilling backdrop to promote his own government’s crisis management. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party says that if new far-left party Podemos – a close ally of Greece’s ruling Syriza – forces a change of course on the economy after the election, Spain could plunge back into crisis. Asked about the Spanish government’s statements, Varoufakis said Greece “has become a sort of football for right-wing politicians, who insist on using Greece to frighten their population.”

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They have already.

“They Bury The Values Of Democracy”- Varoufakis (Stern)

We tried to implement an emergency food programme for the poor – but the troika disallowed it. We tried to take action against the wealthy, the oligarchs and the sharks – that was also disallowed. I’ve asked for help in these issues from my dialogue partners in Berlin, Brussels and Paris. But that wasn’t forthcoming. Instead, the Eurogroup told us unceremoniously that we shouldn’t do anything on our own initiative. If we did, they would punish us. We didn’t have a chance. They wanted to stonewall us. When we nevertheless took action against the oligarchs, the troika simply protected them. From the very beginning the aim was to cause our government to collapse or to overthrow it.

You’re talking about a country in 21st century Europe?
Yes. I had high expectations when I first entered politics. But then the big surprise for me was how little the concept of democracy means to the most important players. How indifferent they are to the tangible impact of their policies. When I wanted to address the issue in the Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem just snapped at me, saying: “We don’t talk about that. It’s too political!”

You sound bitter.
No. Throughout this euro-crisis, the question is never whether the structure of the eurozone is the reason why everything has become unstable. The fact that surplus countries have been forced into the straitjacket of a common currency with importing countries. All one hears is that the lazy Mediterraneans have lived beyond their means and that they should simply be as hardworking and frugal as the Germans. That is the mantra.

And what’s wrong with that?
It’s all about the balance of power. Who was responsible for awarding all those loans? The BMW Bank. The Mercedes-Benz Bank. Purchase! Enjoy! Here’s a loan, you don’t need your own money! But every reckless borrower is faced with a ruthless lender. The bankers were fully aware that they were taking an immense gamble – but they were driven by wanton greed.

For the past five years, hundreds of experts, economists and politicians have been busy tinkering with the Greek crisis, repeatedly promising that things were going uphill. But the situation is worse than ever.
The fundamental question remains: are the powers that be really interested in ending this crisis? I beg your pardon? This crisis of the century is too good to leave it unexploited. Right at the outset, Schäuble told me that we could no longer afford our welfare state. In this sense, they are unashamedly taking advantage of the humanitarian catastrophe. Thanks to this crisis, they can now implement all these painful things – wage cuts, pension cuts, privatisation – that would never win them any votes at an election.

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Beware the junk bond: “Spreads got insanely tight because of that reach for yield a lot of people were going for regardless of ratings..”

Debt Traders Flee Junkyard’s Dogs as Oil Rout Extends Yield Gap (Bloomberg)

Debt investors are abandoning the bottom rungs of the speculative-grade market as commodity prices at their lowest level in more than a decade pummel borrowers in the energy and mining industries. The yield gap between higher- and lower-rated junk bonds expanded to the widest in more than three years, with the large number of energy and mining companies ranked CCC and lower – the riskiest bets – driving the dichotomy, said Martin Fridson at Lehmann Livian Fridson When removing those companies, the yield on CCC bonds barely changed in July, creating “an industry effect in disguise,” he said. “When you see the index, you think you’re buying all the CCCs cheaper,” New York-based Fridson said. “But outside of energy and metals, which look too scary to buy, the others are trading where they were.”

The yield gap between BB-rated bonds – the top of the junk pile – and those ranked CCC and lower expanded to 7.91 percentage points, the most since December 2011, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. The yield premium for energy companies rated junk versus all high-yielders expanded to 3.61 percentage points after touching the highest ever last week. The gaps have widened as the price of oil plunged by more than 50% in the past year. The plight of these high-yield energy companies may next be seen in default rates, which could reach 25% in the next year in the B and CCC categories, assuming current commodity prices, according to a UBS research report Thursday. “In a troublesome environment, there’s going to be a few companies that fall off the wagon,” said Jody Lurie, a corporate-credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott.

“Their ability to withstand such pressures in a longer period of time is low compared to the higher-rated peers.” The crude drop has caused losses for investors who just a few months ago bought bonds from petroleum companies such as Energy XXI and Comstock Resources that flooded the market. The yield gap reached its narrowest point this year March 3 as oil prices recovered in February. “Spreads got insanely tight because of that reach for yield a lot of people were going for regardless of ratings,” said Zach Jonson at Icon Advisers. Now, with oil prices mired by a global glut, investors are intent on moving toward the lower-risk level of higher-rated junk bonds.

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No need for him to defend himself.

Galbraith Denies Being Part Of Plan B For Greece ‘Criminal Gang’ (Telegraph)

A world-renowned US economist who was part of a secret “Plan B” team devised by Greece’s former finance minister, has denied being involved in a “criminal gang” intent on bringing the drachma back to the country. James K. Galbraith, a professor of government at the University of Texas and long-time friend of Yanis Varoufakis, co-ordinated a five-man effort which advised Athens on the emergency measures it could take if Greece was forced out of the eurozone. The clandestine plans were made public last week following the airing of a private coversation between Mr Varoufakis and international investors in London. Greece’s supreme court has since lodged two private lawsuits against the former minister with the to the country’s parliament. They are said to be related to charges of treason and the formation of a “criminal gang”.

But speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Galbraith said he has received no official communication from Greek authorities about his own involvement and does not expect an extradition order to face trial in the country. “If questions come my way I’ll be happy to answer them” said Mr Galbraith. “We will see what happens, but I would be surprised if there is anything more than a fact finding mission [from Greek authorities] at this stage.” The US economist spent five months working on the plans until May and was not paid for his efforts. The identity of the other three members has not been revealed, but Mr Varoufakis currently enjoys parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution. “We were content to stay completely out of view” said Mr Galbraith, who described his work as “precautionary troubleshooting” as Greece was threatened with a collapse of its banking system by Europe’s creditors.

“It was a situation where any leaks would have done harm, and so we proceeded carefully with that very much in mind. No leaks occurred, we were not involved in any policy discussions and we had no role in the negotiating strategy.” Mr Galbraith also distanced himself from a separate finance ministry operation to devise a system of “parallel liquidity” allowing the government to continue paying its suppliers in the face of the cash squeeze. Mr Varoufakis courted controversy after telling investors he asked a childhood friend and professor at Columbia University to “hack” into the computer system of the equivalent of Greece’s inland revenue body, to set up the payments network. Varoufakis said the system could be denominated in drachma at the “flick of a button”.

The revelation that he sought access to private taxpayer information has sparked fury among opposition parties in Greece, who have called for an inquiry into the operation. Mr Varoufakis said the system, which was denominated in euros, could be switched to drachmas at the “flick of a button”. But Mr Galbraith, who has never met the Columbia professor, downplayed the implications of the plan as an “administrative” matter for the finance ministry. “It could have been implemented within the eurozone, and had no implications for the exit strategy”, he said. “It would have facilitated payments between the state and its counterparties and possibly could have been extended to private sector liquidity”.

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Something tells me the Economist doesn’t quite get it yet.: “The big question is whether this weakness tells us anything about the global economy.”

Emerging Markets’ Material Difficulties (Economist)

Five years ago, two views were fairly common. The future belonged not to the sluggish, ageing advanced economies but to the emerging markets. Furthermore, those economies had such demand for raw materials that a “commodity supercycle” was well under way and would last for years. Commodity prices peaked in 2011, and have been heading remorselessly downwards ever since. Their decline of more than 40% so far is a huge bear market; had it happened in equities, the talk would be of calamity and collapse. News coverage in the Western media tends to view the decline in commodity prices as a benign phenomenon, as indeed it is for countries that are net importers. But it is not good for commodity exporters, many of which are emerging markets.

That helps explain why emerging-market equities have had only one positive year since 2011, and have underperformed their rich-country counterparts by a significant margin in recent years (see chart). The latest sign of trouble came in China, where the Shanghai Composite fell by 8.5% on July 27th. The growth rate of emerging economies is likely to slow in 2015 for the fifth consecutive year, according to the IMF. Of the BRICs, Brazil and Russia will see their output decline this year, while China is slowing. Only the Indian economy is set to accelerate. Developing economies were boosted in the first decade of the 21st century by the rapid expansion of Chinese demand, as the world’s most populous country underwent an investment boom. This was good news for commodity exporters; China comprises almost half of global demand for industrial metals.

But the fall in commodity prices indicates that Chinese demand has slowed in recent years. It also shows that high prices did their job, by bringing forth new sources of supply, such as shale oil and gas. At the same time, China has shifted its manufacturing industry from the assembly of components made abroad to the creation of finished products from scratch. This has hit other Asian economies. Emerging-market exports are down 14% over the past year in dollar terms. In terms of volume, they continued to grow, but only by 1.1%, according to Capital Economics. Such anaemic growth is becoming a trend. World trade, which was expanding faster than global GDP before the financial crisis, is no longer even keeping pace: last year, it grew by 3.2% while GDP advanced 3.4%.

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“The reason is simple: they don’t have it. Investors were warned in the documents that were issued with the bonds, so their claim may be a weak one.”

Puerto Rico Set For Debt Default (FT)

Puerto Rico defaulted on some of its debts this weekend after years of battling to stay current on its obligations, signalling the start of a long and contentious restructuring process for the US commonwealth’s $72bn debt pile. The territory, which successfully scrambled to make a $169m payment on debts owed by the Government Development Bank on Friday, did not make a $58m payment on Public Finance Corporation bonds, according to Victor Suarez, chief of staff for Puerto Rico’s governor. “We don’t have the money,” he said on Friday, according to newswire reports. “The PFC payment will not be made this weekend.” The missed payment will push Puerto Rico formally into default after the close of business on Monday said credit rating agency analysts.

The PFC bonds are the first to fall into arrears, and a government “working group” is racing to come up with a plan to restructure the territory’s debts and overhaul its economy. Puerto Rico governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla startled investors earlier this year when he said the commonwealth would not be able to pay off all of its debts and required a restructuring, a move many bondholders – especially creditors to the government itself –are loath to accept. The PFC bonds hold fewer protections than “general obligation” bonds issued by the Puerto Rican government. The US commonwealth is likely to prioritise which bond payments it makes over the remainder of the year, said traders and portfolio managers. Peter Hayes at BlackRock said the missed payment would be an “awakening” for investors who were holding Puerto Rican debt to generate income.

“It gives you an indication of how [Puerto Rico] is going to proceed going forward,” he said. “They will have some interruption to debt payments, potentially a moratorium of debt service. It is indicative of their solvency situation.”Mr Hayes added that economic activity would have to grow “substantially” in a very short time to avoid a haircut of $30bn to $40bn, which is necessary to get Puerto Rico “out from underneath this debt”. Nonetheless, litigation may start as early as next week, predicted David Kotok, CIO of Cumberland Advisors. “A moral obligation requires an appropriation, and the Puerto Rican legislature failed to appropriate the money,” he said. “The reason is simple: they don’t have it. Investors were warned in the documents that were issued with the bonds, so their claim may be a weak one.”

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Harper’s still the only game in town after 9 years. Canada’s a country in a coma.

Harper Calls October 19 Election With Canada’s Economy On The Ropes (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper fired the starting gun early on Canada’s election campaign amid polls showing his Conservative government’s nine-year reign is threatened by a leftist party that’s never held power nationally. Harper, 56, met with Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, on Sunday morning. He requested the dissolution of parliament and formally began campaigning for an Oct. 19 vote, making it the longest electoral contest since 1872. “Now is most certainly not the time for higher taxes, reckless spending and permanent deficits,” Harper told reporters at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall. “Now is the time to stay on track, now is the time to stick to our plan.”

The incumbent prime minister faces the toughest fight of his political life after almost a decade in power, as an oil shock ransacks the economy and voters grow increasingly weary of his government. Polls show Harper’s Conservatives in a tight three-way race with the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the centrist Liberals. The narrow contest suggests Canada is poised return to a minority government, in which no party can unilaterally push through its agenda and elections are more frequent. It would be the country’s fourth minority government in the past five elections. However by starting the campaign early, Harper – whose Conservatives have continued to easily outpace their opponents in fundraising – may tilt the scale in his favor.

“The government is trying at this stage to line up clearly as many advantage touch points as possible,” said John Wright, managing director of polling firm Ipsos Reid. Polling suggests Harper’s biggest challenge will come from the New Democrats, Canada’s official opposition party with the second highest number of seats in the House of Commons. The NDP was averaging 32.6% of popular support, ahead of the Conservatives at 31.6% and the Liberals at 25.6%, according to national averages compiled July 28 by polling aggregator ThreeHundredEight.com for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

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Psychos rule.

Training Officers to Shoot First, and He Will Answer Questions Later (NY Times)

The shooting looked bad. But that is when the professor is at his best. A black motorist, pulled to the side of the road for a turn-signal violation, had stuffed his hand into his pocket. The white officer yelled for him to take it out. When the driver started to comply, the officer shot him dead. The driver was unarmed. Taking the stand at a public inquest, William J. Lewinski, the psychology professor, explained that the officer had no choice but to act. “In simple terms,” the district attorney in Portland, Ore., asked, “if I see the gun, I’m dead?” “In simple terms, that’s it,” Dr. Lewinski replied.

When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country. His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story. He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged.

In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive. A string of deadly police encounters in Ferguson, Mo.; North Charleston, S.C.; and most recently in Cincinnati, have prompted a national reconsideration of how officers use force and provoked calls for them to slow down and defuse conflicts. But the debate has also left many police officers feeling unfairly maligned and suspicious of new policies that they say could put them at risk. Dr. Lewinski says his research clearly shows that officers often cannot wait to act. “We’re telling officers, ‘Look for cover and then read the threat,’ ” he told a class of Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs recently. “Sorry, too damn late.”

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“There was a building in Calais where asylum seeker claims could be processed. Health was checked, children were fed, women were protected from rape [..] In 2002, we told the French to close it.”

They Are Not Migrant Hordes, But People, And Probably Nicer Than Us (Mirror)

They do not have names. They do not have needs, or rights, or jobs, or a tax code, or a passport. They are your choice of collective noun: a swarm, a flood, a tide, a horde. They are not Bob, or Sue, or David or Kate or Charlotte or Adrian. They are not like us. They are Them. They are stateless and helpless, foodless and friendless. Why should we share? The migrant crisis sounds so much more threatening than the humanitarian crisis . The need for usterity sounds more important than the need for common sense . Let’s put to one side for a moment any arguments about space and what we ll do if the entire population of the world wants to move to these few cold, wet, paedophile-producing square miles of rock. Let’s look at the facts.

1) There are about 5,000 stateless people in Calais. And 64.1 million people in the UK. That means if we let in every single person who’d currently like us to, the population would explode by 0.000078%. That’s not a flood. It’s barely a drip.

2) They would not cost very much . Total UK welfare spending is expected to be £217 billion this year, 29% of our overall budget. It includes benefits, tax credits, and pensions. That works out to £3,385 per head of current population, or £7,406 per taxpayer. If we let in those 5,000 extra people, and we assume they get benefits and pay taxes at the same rates as everyone else, we’d turn a profit. They’d cost us about £17m, but make us at the current rate of GDP £100m extra. Divide that, carry the one… Even if they didn’t work, that £17m divided by all the taxpayers is an extra 57p each. That’s not a drain on resources. And when you consider that over their lifetimes those immigrants are more likely than those born here to work harder for longer while taking less out of the system, it might even turn into a plus.

3) Most people don’t want to come here The argument that letting these people in would mean everyone else would do the same is common, but unreasonable. Yes, each immigrant may have family members who would join them but if you multiplied their numbers by five, 10, or 20, they still have virtually no impact on our population or finances. Most of those trying to come to Britain are from Syria, Libya, Somalia and Eritrea, which have a combined population of 45m. Those 5,000 immigrants represent 0.01% of them. That s not a horde. [..]

5) It’s our fault. There was a building in Calais where asylum seeker claims could be processed. Health was checked, children were fed, women were protected from rape. No-one had to die under trains or drown in the world s busiest shipping lane. Unworthy claims were thrown out before they set foot on British soil, and the ones who genuinely needed help got it. In 2002, we told the French to close it. And we put up a fence. Then we bombed Libya, were unable to pick a side in Syria, complained about Somalia, did nothing at all about Eritrea while mining it of resources and watched the Arab Spring install schismatic warlords all over the Middle East. It’s hardly a surprise some of them want to come here, if only to lodge a formal complaint.

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Jul 262015
 


Jack Delano Jewish stores in Colchester, Connecticut 1940

The Last Bubble Standing – Amazon’s Same Day Trip Through The Casino (Stockman)
Europe Braces Itself For Revolutionary Leftist Backlash After Greece (Telegraph)
Varoufakis – A New Kind Of Politics? (Paul Tyson)
Varoufakis Claims He Had Approval To Plan Parallel Banking System (Kathimerini)
Greece, The Sacrificial Lamb (Joe Stiglitz)
Depression’s Advocates (J. Bradford DeLong)
The Latest Rising Greek Political Star Who Says No To Austerity (HuffPo)
How the Euro Turned Into a Trap (NY Times Ed.)
Greek Bailout Talks Pushed Back By A Few Days On Logistics (Reuters)
Renewed Bailout Talks Between Greece And Creditors Hit Snags (FT)
Greek Gov’t Braces For Talks With Creditors Amid Upheaval In SYRIZA (Kath.)
Greek Bank Boldholders Fear Portuguese-Style “Bad Bank” Split (Reuters)
Chancellor George Osborne Takes EU Reform Campaign To Paris (Reuters)
Puerto Rico: Austerity For Residents, But Tax Breaks For Hedge Funds (Guardian)
What A Federal Financial Control Board Means To Puerto Rico (The Hill)
Judge Finds Chicago’s Changes To Pension Funds Unconstitutional (Tribune)
Foreign Criminals Use London Real Estate To Launder Billions Of Pounds (Guardian)
The – Goldman-Related – Scandal That Ate Malaysia (Bloomberg)
Olive Oil Prices Surge Due To Drought And Disease In Spain And Italy (Guardian)
The Future of Food Finance (Barron’s)
Archaeologists Find Possible Evidence Of Earliest Human Agriculture (Guardian)

“..the Wall Street brokers’ explanation for AMZN’s $250 billion of bottled air is actually proof positive that the casino has become unhinged.”

The Last Bubble Standing – Amazon’s Same Day Trip Through The Casino (Stockman)

Right. Amazon is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Like millions of others, I use it practically every day. And it was nice to see that it made a profit -thin as it was at 0.4% of sales- in the second quarter. But the instantaneous re-rating of its market cap by $40 billion in the seconds after its earnings release had nothing to do with Amazon or the considerable entrepreneurial prowess of Jeff Bezos and his army of disrupters. It was more in the nature of financial rigor mortis – the final spasm of the robo-traders and the fast money crowd chasing one of the greatest bubbles still standing in the casino. And, yes, Amazon’s $250 billion market cap is an out and out bubble. Notwithstanding all the “good things it brings to life” daily, it is not the present day incarnation of General Electric of the 1950s, and for one blindingly obvious reason.

It has never made a profit beyond occasional quarterly chump change. And, what’s more, Bezos -arguably the most maniacal empire builder since Genghis Khan- apparently has no plan to ever make one. To be sure, in these waning days of the third great central bank enabled bubble of this century, GAAP net income is a decidedly quaint concept. In the casino it’s all about beanstalks which grow to the sky and sell-side gobbledygook. Here’s how one of Silicon Valley’s most unabashed circus barkers, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, explains it: “Next Steps For AWS… SaaS Applications? We believe AWS has an opportunity to move up the cloud stack to applications and leverage its existing base of AWS IaaS/PaaS 1M + users. AWS dipped its toes into the SaaS pool earlier this year when it expanded its offerings to include an email management program and we believe it will continue to extend its expertise to other offerings. We do not believe that this optionality is baked into investors’ outlook for AWS.”

Got that? Instead, better try this. AMZN’s operating free cash flow in Q2 was $621 million -representing an annualized run rate right in line with its LTM figure of $2.35 billion. So that means there was no cash flow acceleration this quarter, and that AMZN is being valued at, well, 109X free cash flow! Moreover, neither its Q2 or LTM figure is some kind of downside aberration. The fact is, Amazon is one of the greatest cash burn machines ever invented. It’s not a start-up; it’s 25 years old. And it has never, ever generated any material free cash flow – notwithstanding its $96 billion of LTM sales. During CY 2014, for example, free cash flow was just $1.8 billion and it clocked in at an equally thin $1.2 billion the year before that.

In fact, beginning with net revenues of just $8.5 billion in 2005 it has since ramped its sales by 12X, meaning that during the last ten and one-half years it has booked $431 billion in sales. But its cumulative operating free cash flow over that same period was just $6 billion or 1.4% of its turnover. So, no, Amazon is not a profit-making enterprise in any meaningful sense of the word and its stock price measures nothing more than the raging speculative juices in the casino. In an honest free market, real investors would never give a quarter trillion dollar valuation to a business that refuses to make a profit, never pays a dividend and is a one-percenter at best in the free cash flow department -that is, in the very thing that capitalist enterprises are born to produce. Indeed, the Wall Street brokers’ explanation for AMZN’s $250 billion of bottled air is actually proof positive that the casino has become unhinged.

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We may hope so.

Europe Braces Itself For Revolutionary Leftist Backlash After Greece (Telegraph)

A pre-revolutionary fervour is sweeping Europe. “The atmosphere is a little similar to the time after 1968 in Europe. I can feel, maybe not a revolutionary mood, but something like widespread impatience”. These were the words of European council president Donald Tusk, 48 hours after Greece’s paymasters imposed the most punishing bail-out measures ever forced on a debtor nation in the eurozone’s 15-year history. A former Polish prime minister and a politician not prone to hyperbole, Tusk’s comments revealed Brussels’ fears of a bubbling rebellion across the continent. “When impatience becomes not an individual but a social experience of feeling, this is the introduction for revolutions” said Tusk. “I am really afraid of this ideological or political contagion”.

His unease reflects a widespread conviction that Europe’s elites had no choice but to make an example out of Greece. Alexis Tsipras was forced to submit to a deal that punished his government’s insolence, so the argument goes, and destroy the fantasy that a “new eurozone” could be forged for the economies of the southern Mediterranean. Having emerged from the talks, Tusk declared victory, dismissing the “radical leftist illusion that you can build some alternative to this traditional European vision of the economy.” Syriza’s unprecedented rise to power in January marked a watershed in post-crisis Europe, hitherto dominated by conservative-leaning governments from Portugal to Finland.

The first radical-Left regime in Europe’s post-war history, Syriza vowed to tear up the Troika’s austerity contract, forge a Mediterranean alliance against the dominant creditor-bloc, and transform the terms of Greece’s euro membership. Seven months later, these dreams are in tatters. A tortuous 30-hour weekend in Brussels led to Tsipras capitulating to austerity terms more egregious than any negotiated by Greece’s previous centre-right and Socialist governments. Greek assets will now be sequestered into a private fund to pay off debts, external monitors will return to the country, and everything from the price of milk and bakery bread will be subject to Brussels’ scrutiny. “Syriza was the big Leftist experiment and it has gone disastrously wrong in a short period of time,” says Luke March, author of Radical Left Parties in Europe and lecturer at Edinburgh University.

“The Left elsewhere are now being forced to take stock and say “we are not Greece””. But the shadow of 1968 – a year when Europe was gripped by mass discontent, student rebellions, and labour strikes – looms over Europe’s institutions. Over the course of the next 10 months, the entire complexion of the European south could be transformed. General elections in Portugal, Spain and Ireland are poised to bring anti-austerity, Left leaning parties to power. It is the wildfire of political contagion that spooks Europe’s federalists. Greece’s humiliation, rather than cowing the revolutionary Left, is set to embolden the southern calls for mass debt relief and cease the enforcement of the euro’s contractionary dogma.

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“..it seems all too likely that the ‘logic’ of Eurozone finance is a function of Thucydides’ description of primal human barbarity. Here the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.”

Varoufakis – A New Kind Of Politics? (Paul Tyson)

Strangely, one of the most disturbing aspects of Varoufakis’ stint as a Finance Minister concerns the fact that he is an economist. One thing we now readily assume is that economics is the language of power. This gives academic economists a status somewhat like a theologian in relation to the practical priestcraft of public office. However, there are very few professors of economics that actually get into office as politicians, just as you seldom get institutionally savvy bishops or mega-church leaders who are serious theologians. When an economist becomes a politician, this is going to be interesting.

In a few short months, Varoufakis completely exploded the idea that economics is the language of power. What we saw when an actual economist landed in the middle of the Eurozone crisis is that the most basic truths about economic reality have nothing to do with power. The idea that asphyxiating Greek banks and killing the Greek state is good for its economy makes no economic sense at all. The idea that continuing to pursue a savagely contractionary austerity agenda will make it possible to generate sustained state surpluses large enough to repay impossible debt burdens, defies any sort of economic rationality. The conviction that it is somehow both moral and necessary to fiscally execute the Greek polity or eject Greece in order to preserve the financial integrity of the Eurozone, is not a stance grounded in economic science.

Yet these agenda commitments are, obviously, immovable Eurogroup dogmas. When Varoufakis patiently, logically and persuasively sought to point out the economic problems with the sacred Eurozone dogmas, this got him into trouble for “lecturing” his peers. Somehow, the economic irrationality of what the Eurogroup must do was obvious to the Eurogroup, and they could not for the life of them see why Varoufakis didn’t understand this. So Varoufakis became branded as “combative” and “recalcitrant” due to his refusal to be on the same page as all the other European finance ministers, when all along it was the Eurogroup who would not talk about obvious economic realities with Varoufakis. Varoufakis’ failed attempt to negotiate even a modicum of constructive economic and political sanity with Brussels strongly suggests that the governing principles of financial power in Europe are not grounded in economic science or democratic politics.

Indeed, it seems all too likely that the ‘logic’ of Eurozone finance is a function of Thucydides’ description of primal human barbarity. Here the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must. The complete lack of impact which Varoufakis’ economic arguments achieved leads one to fear that when it comes to economics and politics, we are being conned: the main purpose of economic speak in politics is obfuscation. If that is indeed the case, then having someone point out the obvious elephant in the room – the economic impossibility of the prevailing dogmas governing high finance and domestic politics – is just too much. It looks like our ruling elites do not want a real economist meddling with power.

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A story that seems to surprise many people. But V already told it ages ago. Only thing new is that it started in December.

Varoufakis Claims He Had Approval To Plan Parallel Banking System (Kathimerini)

Former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed that he was authorized by Alexis Tsipras last December to look into a parallel payment system that would operate using wiretapped tax registration numbers (AFMs) and could eventually work as a parallel banking system, Kathimerini has learned. In a teleconference call with members of international hedge funds that was allegedly coordinated by former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, Varoufakis claimed to have been given the okay by Tsipras last December – a month before general elections that brought SYRIZA to power – to plan a payment system that could operate in euros but which could be changed into drachmas “overnight” if necessary, Kathimerini understands.

Varoufakis worked with a small team to prepare the plan, which would have required a staff of 1,000 to implement but did not get the final go-ahead from Tsipras to proceed, he said. The call took place on July 16, more than a week after Varoufakis left his post as finance minister. The plan would involve hijacking the AFMs of taxpayers and corporations by hacking into the General Secretariat of Public Revenues website, Varoufakis told his interlocutors. This would allow the creation of a parallel system that could operate if banks were forced to close and which would allow payments to be made between third parties and the state and could eventually lead to the creation of a parallel banking system, he said.

As the general secretariat is a system that is monitored by Greece’s creditors and is therefore difficult to access, Varoufakis said he assigned a childhood friend of his, an information technology expert who became a professor at Columbia University, to hack into the system. A week after Varouakis took over the ministry, he said the friend telephoned him and said he had “control” of the hardware but not the software “which belongs to the troika.” [..] The work was more or less complete: We did have a Plan B but the difficulty was to go from the five people who were planning it to the 1,000 people that would have to implement it. For that I would have to receive another authorisation which never came.”

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“..The Germans say there is to be no debt write-off and that the IMF must be part of the program. But the IMF cannot participate in a program in which debt levels are unsustainable”

Greece, The Sacrificial Lamb (Joe Stiglitz)

As the Greek crisis proceeds to its next stage, Germany, Greece and the triumvirate of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (now better known as the troika) have all faced serious criticism. While there is plenty of blame to share, we shouldn’t lose sight of what is really going on. I’ve been watching this Greek tragedy closely for five years, engaged with those on all sides. Having spent the last week in Athens talking to ordinary citizens, young and old, as well as current and past officials, I’ve come to the view that this is about far more than just Greece and the euro. Some of the basic laws demanded by the troika deal with taxes and expenditures and the balance between the two, and some deal with the rules and regulations affecting specific markets.

What is striking about the new program (called “the third memorandum”) is that on both scores it makes no sense either for Greece or for its creditors. As I read the details, I had a sense of déjà vu. As chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, I saw firsthand in East Asia the devastating effects of the programs imposed on the countries that had turned to the IMF for help. This resulted not just from austerity but also from so-called structural reforms, where too often the IMF was duped into imposing demands that favored one special interest relative to others. There were hundreds of conditions, some little, some big, many irrelevant, some good, some outright wrong, and most missing the big changes that were really required. Back in 1998 in Indonesia, I saw how the IMF. ruined that country’s banking system.

I recall the picture of Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the IMF at the time, standing over President Suharto as Indonesia surrendered its economic sovereignty. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997, I warned that there would be bloodshed in the streets within six months; the riots broke out five months later in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia. Both before and after the crisis in East Asia, and those in Africa and in Latin America (most recently, in Argentina), these programs failed, turning downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. I had thought that the lesson from these failures had been well learned, so it came as a surprise that Europe, beginning a half-decade ago, would impose this same stiff and ineffective program on one of its own.

Whether or not the program is well implemented, it will lead to unsustainable levels of debt, just as a similar approach did in Argentina: The macro-policies demanded by the troika will lead to a deeper Greek depression. That’s why the IMF’s current managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that there needs to be what is euphemistically called “debt restructuring” – that is, in one way or another, a write-off of a significant portion of the debt. The troika program is thus incoherent: The Germans say there is to be no debt write-off and that the IMF must be part of the program. But the IMF cannot participate in a program in which debt levels are unsustainable, and Greece’s debts are unsustainable.

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Geez, I’m even quoting Brad DeLong now?

Depression’s Advocates (J. Bradford DeLong)

Back in the early days of the ongoing economic crisis, I had a line in my talks that sometimes got applause, usually got a laugh, and always gave people a reason for optimism. Given the experience of Europe and the United States in the 1930s, I would say, policymakers would not make the same mistakes as their predecessors did during the Great Depression. This time, we would make new, different, and, one hoped, lesser mistakes. Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be wrong. Not only have policymakers in the eurozone insisted on repeating the blunders of the 1930s; they are poised to repeat them in a more brutal, more exaggerated, and more extended fashion. I did not see that coming.

When the Greek debt crisis erupted in 2010, it seemed to me that the lessons of history were so obvious that the path to a resolution would be straightforward. The logic was clear. Had Greece not been a member of the eurozone, its best option would have been to default, restructure its debt, and depreciate its currency. But, because the European Union did not want Greece to exit the eurozone (which would have been a major setback for Europe as a political project), Greece would be offered enough aid, support, debt forgiveness, and assistance with payments to offset any advantages it might gain by exiting the monetary union. Instead, Greece’s creditors chose to tighten the screws.

As a result, Greece is likely much worse off today than it would have been had it abandoned the euro in 2010. Iceland, which was hit by a financial crisis in 2008, provides the counterfactual. Whereas Greece remains mired in depression, Iceland – which is not in the eurozone – has essentially recovered. To be sure, as the American economist Barry Eichengreen argued in 2007, technical considerations make exiting the eurozone difficult, expensive, and dangerous. But that is just one side of the ledger. Using Iceland as our measuring stick, the cost to Greece of not exiting the eurozone is equivalent to 75% of a year’s GDP – and counting.

It is hard for me to believe that if Greece had abandoned the euro in 2010, the economic fallout would have amounted to even a quarter of that. Furthermore, it seems equally improbable that the immediate impact of exiting the eurozone today would be larger than the long-run costs of remaining, given the insistence of Greece’s creditors on austerity. That insistence reflects the attachment of policymakers in the EU – especially in Germany – to a conceptual framework that has led them consistently to underestimate the gravity of the situation and recommend policies that make matters worse.

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Tsipras can’t afford to lose her.

The Latest Rising Greek Political Star Who Says No To Austerity (HuffPo)

Greece’s charismatic head of parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, is one of the most dynamic and outspoken members of the country’s ruling Syriza party. This week, she sent shockwaves through the party by refusing to approve a financial reform bill proposed by her supposed Syriza ally, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – for the second time. Konstantopoulou considers measures proposed by Tsipras as part of an agreement with Greece’s European lenders to unlock fresh loans for the country a “violent attack on democracy,” she wrote in a letter to Tsipras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Konstantopoulou’s adamant opposition to the newest austerity reforms is resonating with Greeks who feel the Europe-imposed reforms are excruciatingly harsh.

Konstantopoulou, 38, is the daughter of renowned lawyer Nikos Konstantopoulos, who led of one of Syriza’s largest factions, and well-known journalist Lina Alexiou. She studied law at the University of Athens, La Sorbonne in Paris and Columbia University in New York before becoming a lawyer in Greece in 2003, focusing on international criminal law and human rights. Konstantopoulou first ran for Syriza in 2009 and was elected to the Greek parliament in 2012. She was elected head of the parliament in 2015, the youngest person to hold the position. As parliament chief, her forthright remarks and dedication to formal legal procedure have gained her passionate praise as well as fierce opposition. Her forceful interventions have annoyed some politicians, especially those in opposition parties.

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami (The River), for example, has called her arrogant and has demanded her resignation. Others have praised her fiery energy, saying her forceful defense of her convictions is invigorating. Despite Konstantopoulou’s rising favor, she remains far less popular than other Syriza politicians, especially Tsipras. Her blunt rejection of the prime minister’s reforms has raised speculation she may leave the party and go her own way, according to Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini. Konstantopoulou denies that scenario. After a one-hour meeting with Tsipras on Thursday, she told reporters that both share “an understanding built on camaraderie and honesty, along with the common wish to protect the rights of the people as well as the unity of Syriza, which some would want to see shattered.”

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NY Times ed staff changing its tack.

How the Euro Turned Into a Trap (NY Times Ed.)

When they introduced the euro in 1999, European leaders said the common currency would be irreversible and would lead to greater economic and political integration among their countries. That pledge of permanence, long doubted by euro-skeptics, seems ever less credible. While the eurozone may have temporarily avoided a Greek exit, it is hard to see how a deal that requires more spending cuts, higher taxes and only vague promises of debt relief can restore the crippled economy enough to keep Greece in the currency union. On Thursday, the Greek Parliament passed a second set of reforms required by the country’s creditors. Other changes, like higher taxes on farmers, are expected later in the year.

The combative finance minister of Germany, Wolfgang Schäuble, has further undermined confidence in the euro’s cohesion by saying that Greece would be better off leaving the common currency for a five-year “timeout.” As a practical matter, an exit from the currency union would almost certainly be permanent, since readmission involves a grueling process. The eurozone requires new members to keep inflation below 2% and to have a maximum fiscal deficit of 3% of GDP and a public debt that is no more than 60% of GDP. The plight of the Greeks has made countries that do not use the euro, like Poland and Hungary, far less eager to join the currency union, which has come to mean a loss of sovereignty and a commitment to austerity, regardless of economic reality.

Of course, the euro was never entirely about economics. European leaders believed the single currency was a big step toward creating an irrevocable alliance among countries on the continent. But many experts warned that it could make its members less stable unless it was followed by a tighter political and budgetary union. Since that did not happen, the currency union was left fully vulnerable to economic crises and to the will of Europe’s more powerful economies. All those fears have played out in Greece, even as the threat of exits from the euro hangs over other weakened countries, like Italy, Portugal and Spain. Senior leaders in Germany, Finland and Slovakia who have publicly suggested a Greek exit seem to think it would scare weaker economies into accepting more austerity.

That may not be necessary; some radical parties in those countries are already openly talking about leaving the euro. The question now is what is the cost of leaving? Can a modern economy withstand the immediate damage of an abrupt currency change if the benefits of devaluation and regaining full control over fiscal and monetary policies could be limited and could take years to realize?

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Not enough 5-star hotel rooms?

Greek Bailout Talks Pushed Back By A Few Days On Logistics (Reuters)

Talks between Greece and its international creditors over a new bailout package will be delayed by a couple of days because of organisational issues, a finance ministry official said on Saturday. The meetings with officials from the EC, ECB and IMF were supposed to start on Monday after being delayed for issues including the location of talks and security last week. A finance ministry official, who declined to be named, said talks between the technical teams of the lenders will start on Tuesday, while the mission chiefs will arrive in Athens with a delay of a couple of days for technical reasons. “The reasons for the delay are neither political, nor diplomatic ones,” the official added.

Greeks have viewed inspections visits by the lenders in Athens as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and six months of acrimonious negotiations with EU partners took place in Brussels at the government’s request. Another finance ministry official denied earlier on Saturday that the government was trying to keep the lenders’ team away from government departments and had no problem with them visiting the General Accounting Office.. Asked if the government would now allow EU, IMF and ECB mission chiefs to visit Athens for talks on a new loan, State Minister Alekos Flabouraris said: “If the agreement says that they should visit a ministry, we have to accept that.”

The confusion around the expected start to the talks on Friday underlined the challenges ahead if negotiations are to be wrapped up in time for a bailout worth up to €86 billion to be approved in parliament by Aug. 20, as Greece intends. Already, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is struggling to contain a rebellion in his left-wing Syriza party that made his government dependent on votes from pro-European opposition parties to get the tough bailout terms approved in parliament. One of Tsipras’ closest aides said that the understanding with the opposition parties could not last long and a clear solution was needed, underlining widespread expectations that new elections may come as soon as September or October. “The country cannot go on with a minority government for long. We need clear, strong solutions,” State Minister Nikos Pappas told the weekly Ependysi in an interview published on Saturday.

Apart from the terms of a new loan, Greece and its lenders are also expected to discuss the sustainability of its debt, which is around 170% of GDP. Greece has repeatedly asked for a debt relief and the IMF has said this is needed for the Greek accord to be viable. [..] Tsipras, who is by far the most popular politician in Greece according to opinion polls, has said his priority is to secure the bailout package before dealing with the political fallout from the Syriza party rebellion.

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“..the decision to pursue a new IMF program means euro zone leaders may have to open talks on granting Greece significant debt relief much earlier than originally anticipated..”

Renewed Bailout Talks Between Greece And Creditors Hit Snags (FT)

Talks to agree a new €86bn bailout for Greece ran into trouble on Friday after Athens raised hurdles for negotiators in the Greek capital, forcing them to postpone their arrival amid renewed acrimony. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, agreed last week to “fully normalize” talks with creditors on the ground in Athens after resisting their presence for months — a key demand made by euro zone leaders when they agreed to reopen rescue talks after coming close to pushing Greece out of the euro zone. But three senior officials from Greece’s bailout monitors said Athens had instead demanded restrictions on negotiators, including on whom creditors could meet and what topics were to be discussed in the talks.

Two of the officials said Greek authorities had also insisted negotiators no longer use the Athens Hilton as their base — a hotel close to central Syntagma Square and a short drive to the finance ministry — instead proposing hotels far from the capital’s government quarter. “It is fundamentally more of the same,” said a senior official from one of the bailout monitors,colloquially known as the “troika” after the three institutions originally involved in the talks, the EC, ECB and IMF. “They don’t want to engage with the troika.” Greek officials insisted the renewed stand-off was only a temporary delay and that talks would resume over the weekend or Monday at the latest.

George Stathakis, economy minister, said he was confident the negotiations would be finished by mid-August, when Athens needs the bailout cash to pay off a €3.2bn bond held by the ECB. Mr Stathakis said Greece and its creditors had already found common ground on many of the main issues,including fiscal targets, stabilizing the banking sector, liberalization of product markets and professions, labor market reforms and privatizations of state assets. “We have three weeks,and I’m confident that it’s enough for the existing agenda,” Mr Stathakis told the Financial Times. “We agree in certain areas. In others, there are different views and some distance needs to be covered. But the last European summit gave a framework that indicates which directions to follow, and that’s why I think three weeks will be enough.”

Still, one creditor official said negotiating teams were “sitting on their suitcases” and had no plans to go to Athens until the logistical issues were resolved. Adding another potential complication, the Greek government on Friday lodged a formal request with the IMF to begin discussions on a new, third bailout program. The request came after officials at the IMF determined that the current Greek program, which still has about €16.5bn to disburse and was due to expire in March, had become outdated. Those negotiations between Athens and the IMF could take months. But the decision to pursue a new IMF program means euro zone leaders may have to open talks on granting Greece significant debt relief much earlier than originally anticipated, since the IMF will not sign on to a new program unless euro zone lenders agree to restructure their bailout loans.

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Syriza differences are being magnified by the press.

Greek Gov’t Braces For Talks With Creditors Amid Upheaval In SYRIZA (Kath.)

Even as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras grapples with serious divisions within SYRIZA, government officials are bracing for the launch of face-to-face negotiations with representatives of the country’s creditors which are expected to begin next week. The government is hoping to seal a deal with creditors by mid-August and certainly before August 20 when a €3.2 billion debt repayment to the ECB is to come due. Greece does not have the money to repay the debt and is hoping for a deal to be reached, allowing the partial disbursement of some funding, either from a new program or from residual funding from the recapitalization of Greek banks. But sources indicate that creditors are less optimistic about a deal being finalized so soon.

As a result officials are said to be considering the possibility of a second bridge loan to Greece, which would allow it to cover the ECB debt and other obligations, before an agreement on a third bailout is finalized. Although officials from countries that have taken a hard line opposite Greece, including Germany and some north European states, reportedly want Athens to commit to more prior actions, European Economy and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has indicated that this will not be necessary. Creditors are expected to seek additional measures at some point, however, to plug a widening fiscal gap.

Tsipras is also struggling to keep a lid on dissent within SYRIZA as a bloc of around 30 of the party’s 149 MPs object to his compromise with creditors, which foresees more austerity. The premier has indicated that a party congress should be held in September to refocus SYRIZA. Early elections, which are considered inevitable in view of the upheaval within the party, are expected to take place immediately after the congress, either later in September or in October or even November. In comments on Saturday, State Minister Nikos Pappas acknowledged that the country cannot continue indefinitely with a minority government, referring to the mass defections by SYRIZA MPs in recent parliamentary votes. A meeting of SYRIZA’s political secretariat is due on Monday.

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As long as small depositors are left alone, fine by me.

Greek Bank Boldholders Fear Portuguese-Style “Bad Bank” Split (Reuters)

National Bank of Greece bondholders are nervous that they will suffer heavy losses if authorities decide to siphon off all of the bank’s healthy assets leaving a “bad bank” to deal with their claims, a source close to a creditor group said. A group of senior bondholders in NBG sent a letter to European institutions last week saying they were concerned about measures that may be taken to revitalise the Greek banking sector after months of economic upheaval. After drawn-out negotiations, Greece is close to clinching a third bailout deal but has kept in place the capital controls it used to prevent a bank run last month.

The investors, who hold a significant portion of a €750 million NBG senior bond issued last year, are worried the bank may be split into a good bank and a bad bank as was the case for Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo last year. Portugal separated out and pumped money into the healthy part of the bank creating a new entity “Novo Banco”, while remaining BES shareholders and subordinated bondholders were left with near worthless investments in the remaining bad bank. NBG bondholders are concerned that such a split in Greece could require a level of recapitalisation that would also see senior bondholders left behind in the bad bank.

Under current Greek law, junior bondholders should contribute to a bail-in, while new legislation passed on Wednesday will also force senior bondholders to contribute from January 1 2016. Recapitalisations of Greek banks may be needed before then, however, leaving the option of a bad bank solution on the table. ECB governing council member Christian Noyer said an initial injection of capital for Greek banks would be preferable before stress tests in the autumn.

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To talk to Le Pen?

Chancellor George Osborne Takes EU Reform Campaign To Paris (Reuters)

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will take Britain’s case for European Union reform to Paris on Sunday, seeking support from his French counterpart for a deal the Conservative government can put before voters in a promised in-out referendum. British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate ties with the European Union ahead of a vote on the country’s continuing membership by the end of 2017. Osborne’s trip to Paris, the first in a series of visits to European capitals, will seek to build on Cameron’s meetings with all 27 leaders of the bloc earlier this year, the government said. He will argue that with public support for reform rising across the EU, now is the time to deliver lasting change. “The referendum in Britain is an opportunity to make the case for reform across the EU,” he will say, according to excepts of his speech.

“I want to see a new settlement for Europe, one that makes it a more competitive and dynamic continent to ensure it delivers prosperity and security for all of the people within it, not just for those in Britain.” Cameron’s promise of a referendum was made before national elections in May to neutralise a threat from the anti-EU UK Independence Party and to pacify Euro sceptics in his own party. The possibility that Britain could leave the European Union as a result of the tactic has worried allies such as the United States and opposition parties in Britain. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that a Britain within the European union gave Washington much greater confidence in the strength of the transatlantic union. Some lawmakers were angered by his intervention in the debate, saying he was lecturing Britain.

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What a refreshing MO.

Puerto Rico: Austerity For Residents, But Tax Breaks For Hedge Funds (Guardian)

Caught between the demands of billionaires, pro-bankruptcy activists and more than three million people plagued by unemployment, poverty and government debt, who would you choose? As Puerto Rico confronts the quagmire of its $72bn financial crisis, it has come up with an answer: humouring a few very wealthy people. The island has for three years courted some of Wall Street’s richest citizens, from solitary investors to hedge fund elites. Last year it sold at auction hundreds of millions of its debt to various funds, displeasing many who believe the “vulture funds” only want a quick profit off Puerto Rico as it desperately tries to repay debt with high local taxes and austerity cuts.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson, best known for making billions off the 2008 subprime loan market crash, led the charge last year when he declared the island “the Singapore of the Caribbean”. His fund bought more than $100m of Puerto Rico’s junk-rated bonds last year. The most visible effect has been a rush to buy property akin to the buying spree by two billionaires in Detroit as that city filed for bankruptcy. Detroit’s woes are often held up for comparison to Puerto Rico’s but the island lacks the statehood or permission from Congress it would need to file for bankruptcy and follow Michigan’s decision to declare Motor City bust. While funds have inched away from Puerto Rico’s debt debacle, Paulson has bought into land.

In 2014 he spent more than $260m to buy three of the island’s largest resort properties, and announced plans to develop $500m-worth of “residences and resort amenities” to add to the existing beachfront condos and golf courses. He has a fellow cheerleader in billionaire Nicholas Prouty, who has invested more than $550m into turning San Juan’s marina into a bastion of the elite that includes an exclusive club and slips for “megayachts of 200 feet or larger”. As in Detroit, ultra-high-end developments abut scores of empty buildings, either for sale or abandoned by owners searching for work. With unemployment more than twice the US national average, the island’s median household income is nearly $7,000 less than that in Detroit, and less than half the US average.

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Feudalism?

What A Federal Financial Control Board Means To Puerto Rico (The Hill)

Puerto Rico is spiraling out of control and the Federal government will not break the fall. Island leaders may not have the will, popular support, or financial tools to pay down the $72 billion debt. So it is no surprise that calls for a federal financial control board intensified after Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced that Puerto Rico’s debt is unpayable. Establishing a control board may be the easy way out for a wary Congress but it is not as simple as it seems and could backfire. A federal financial control board for Puerto Rico was first proposed a year ago by supporters of Doral Bank in its dispute with the Puerto Rican government over a $230 million tax refund. Most of Doral’s supporters are affiliated with the conservative Koch brothers.

They include Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Darrell Issa (CA) and Matt Salmon (AZ) who received Koch Industries PAC contributions and who prior to Doral had never been involved with Puerto Rico. Last month, Duncan recommended to his House colleagues that a control board be established. The 60 Plus Association, another Koch funding recipient, is lobbying for a control board. While frustrated Puerto Ricans are increasingly talking about the need for a control board, the majority of the Island opposes it with good reason. First, Puerto Ricans feel that given the right tools, they can fix the fiscal crisis on their own. Right now the most important tool is access to Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy. From 1933 until 1984, Puerto Rico could allow its municipalities and public corporations to declare bankruptcy in the same way as the 50 states.

In 1984 Congress amended the bankruptcy code and excluded Puerto Rico for reasons unknown. Most agree that overall losses to investors will be higher if Puerto Rico is not given access to Federal bankruptcy and defaults. To avoid this scenario Puerto Rico passed its own bankruptcy law which was challenged by bondholders of electricity provider PREPA which owes $9 billion. The law was recently struck down in Federal court. The Puerto Rican government may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The same group of creditors is fighting bankruptcy legislation introduced in Congress. Issa, who sits in the subcommittee reviewing the bill, opposes it. The conservative Heritage Foundation calls it a bailout even though it supported Chapter 9 for Detroit.

Second, Puerto Ricans are distrustful of any financial control board established by a national government that has denied it political representation for 117 years. The distrust is heightened by knowledge that the chief supporters of a control board are members of the conservative Koch brothers’ network and creditors whose objective is to make money off Puerto Rico rather than enable Puerto Rico to remake itself.

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It’s not easy being Rahm.

Judge Finds Chicago’s Changes To Pension Funds Unconstitutional (Tribune)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it will appeal a Cook County judge’s decision Friday that ruled unconstitutional a state law reducing municipal worker pension benefits in exchange for a city guarantee to fix their underfunded retirement systems. The 35-page ruling by Judge Rita Novak, slapping down the city’s arguments point by point, could have wide-ranging effects if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. Her decision appeared to also discredit efforts at the state and Cook County levels to try to curb pension benefits to rein in growing costs that threaten funding for government services. The issue of underfunded pensions, and how to restore their financial health, is crucial for the city and its taxpayers.

The city workers and laborers funds at issue in Friday’s ruling are more than $8 billion short of what’s needed to meet obligations – and are at risk of going broke within 13 years – after many years of low investment returns fueled by recession and inadequate funding. Without reducing benefits paid to retired workers, or requiring current workers to pay more, taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation. Friday’s ruling also could further harm the city’s rapidly diminishing credit rating. Even before the decision, Moody’s Investors Service had downgraded the city’s debt rating to junk status based on pension concerns.

And after Novak’s ruling, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service warned that it would lower the rating on city debt within the next six months without a fix. Novak’s ruling was not unexpected because of a decision in May by the Illinois Supreme Court on a similar pension case. The state’s high court unanimously struck down a law changing state pensions, saying the Illinois Constitution’s protection against “diminished or impaired” pension benefits for public workers and current retirees was absolute. City officials had argued that an agreement reached with 28 of 31 labor unions to alter retirement benefits out of the municipal and laborers pension funds – two of the city’s four pension plans – was different from the plan struck down by the Supreme Court.

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Color me stunned.

Foreign Criminals Use London Real Estate To Launder Billions Of Pounds (Guardian)

Foreign criminals are using the London housing market to launder billions of pounds, pushing up house prices for domestic buyers, a senior police officer has warned. Donald Toon, the director of economic crime at the National Crime Agency, spoke after a spike in receipts from a tax on homes bought up by companies, trusts and investment funds rather than individuals. Such corporations, usually based in offshore tax havens, are sometimes used by buyers keen to hide ownership of assets from their own countries’ tax authorities. The secrecy they offer can equally be used to squirrel away ill-gotten gains. Toon told the Times: “I believe the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.”

He spoke after provisional tax receipts showed the Treasury had made £142m from the annual tax on enveloped dwellings in just the first three months of the financial year. The tax, introduced last year, is payable every year by companies that own a UK residential property valued above a certain amount. The City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea accounted for 82% of the revenue, but inflation at the top of the market is thought to ripple down to cheaper properties as wealthy buyers are pushed down the housing chain. Toon’s comments come amid increasing concern that billions of pounds of corruptly gained money has been laundered by criminals and foreign officials buying upmarket London properties through anonymous offshore front companies.

Experts say that London, with its myriad links to tax haven crown dependencies, is arguably the global capital of money laundering. This month a Channel 4 investigation found that estate agents in Britain’s wealthiest postcodes are willing to turn a blind eye to apparent money laundering by corrupt foreign buyers. In the documentary, titled From Russia With Cash, two undercover reporters posed as an unscrupulous Russian government official called Boris in London to purchase an upmarket property for his mistress. The couple viewed five properties ranging in price from £3m to £15m, on the market with five estate agents in Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill.

Despite being made aware they are dealing with apparently laundered money, the estate agents agreed to continue with a potential purchase. In several instances the estate agents recommended law firms to help a buyer hide his identity. The agents suggested that secretive purchases of multimillion-pound houses were common in the capital. One claimed that 80% or more of his transactions were with international, overseas-based buyers and “50 or 60%” of them were conducted in “various stages of anonymity … whether it be through a company or an offshore trust”.

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Blowing up one country at a time.

The – Goldman-Related – Scandal That Ate Malaysia (Bloomberg)

In the spring of 2013, Song Dal Sun, head of securities investment at Seoul-based Hanwha Life Insurance, sat down to a presentation by a Goldman Sachs banker. The young Goldman salesman, who had flown in from Hong Kong, made a pitch for bonds to be issued by 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a state-owned company closely tied to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. It was enticing. The 10-year, dollar-denominated bonds offered an interest rate of 4.4%, about 100 basis points higher than other A-minus-rated bonds were yielding at the time, he recalls. But Song, a veteran of 25 years in finance, sensed something was amiss. With such an attractive yield, 1MDB could easily sell the notes directly to institutional investors through a global offering.

Instead, Goldman Sachs was privately selling 1MDB notes worth $3 billion backed by the Malaysian government. “Does it mean ‘explicit guarantee’?” he recalls asking the Goldman salesman, whom he declined to name. “I didn’t get a straight answer,” Song says. “I decided not to buy them.” The bond sale that Song passed up is part of a scandal that has all but sunk 1MDB, rattled investors, and set back Malaysia’s quest to become a developed nation. Najib, who also serves as Malaysia’s finance minister, sits on 1MDB’s advisory board as chairman. The scandal’s aftershocks have rocked his office, his government, and the political party he leads, United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO.

A state investment company trumpeted as a cornerstone of Najib’s economic policy after he became prime minister in April 2009, 1MDB is now mired in debts of at least $11 billion. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a one-time political mentor who’s turned on Najib, says “vast amounts of money” have “disappeared” from 1MDB funds. 1MDB has denied the claim and said all of its debts are accounted for. From the moment in 2009 when Najib took over a sovereign wealth fund set up by the Malaysian state of oil-rich Terengganu and turned it into a development fund owned by the federal government, 1MDB has been controversial. Since the beginning of this year—with coverage driven by the Sarawak Report, a blog, and The Edge, a local business weekly—the scandal has moved closer and closer to the heart of government, sparking calls for Najib’s ouster and recalling Malaysia’s long struggle with corruption and economic disappointment.

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“..a bacterial disease nicknamed “olive ebola”..”

Olive Oil Prices Surge Due To Drought And Disease In Spain And Italy (Guardian)

Salads have rarely been so expensively dressed after a combination of drought and disease pushed the price of olive oil up 10% so far this year, amid warnings from suppliers that harvests are the worst they have seen. The Italian government has declared a “state of calamity” in the provinces of Lecce and Brindisi on the heel of the country, where olive groves are being attacked by a bacterial disease nicknamed “olive ebola”. Up to 1m centuries-old olive trees could be felled in one of the most picturesque tourist spots of Italy in an attempt to contain the problem. The cost of the raw material has been increasing for two years as crops have been hit by drought in Spain, the world’s biggest producer of the oil, and the bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa, which is destroying trees in Italy.

Analysts are expecting prices to remain high in coming months as demand is increasing. Retailers and distributors wanted to buy 12% more olive oil than exporters were able to deliver last month, according to industry insiders. Buyers in Latin America have turned to Europe in the wake of poor harvests over the Atlantic, while eastern Europeans have also been using increasing amounts of olive oil. The next harvest from southern Europe is not expected until September, but fears of a third poor harvest in a row in Spain and Italy continue to push up wholesale prices of remaining stocks over the summer. The other two large olive oil producers, Greece and Tunisia, had good yield and production, but not enough to compensate for Spain and Italy.

In the UK, heavy price competition between retailers, led by the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl, has helped keep prices relatively low for shoppers. But this year, retailers and processors have been forced to pass on increases as the cost of the raw material from Italy has hit a 10-year high. The average retail price of a litre of extra virgin olive oil has risen from £6.32 in December to £6.95 this month, according to data from trade journal the Grocer.

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Humane society.

The Future of Food Finance (Barron’s)

The way people produce and eat food is changing in major ways, presenting both risks and opportunities for those invested in the sustenance sector. Historically, much of our protein has come from animals, but producing just one pound of meat means feeding an animal up to 16 pounds of grains and other crops. The caloric conversion is weak, too: According to a recent report produced in collaboration with the World Bank, even the most efficient sources of meat convert only around 11% of gross feed energy into human food. As global population and per capita meat consumption have grown, this inefficient system has become overburdened. In 1950, the total number of farm animals in the U.S. was somewhere near 100 million; by 2007, that number was roughly 9.5 billion.

To accommodate the enormous demand, nearly all of those animals were moved from farms to factories. According to Agriculture Department data, during the same period that the number of farm animals increased by 9,400%, the number of farmers producing those animals decreased by 60%. So many more animals being reared by so few farmers has come with consequences for consumers, animals, producers, and investors. Take pig production. Over the past several decades, the vast majority of breeding pigs have been moved into “gestation crates,” which are tiny cages that confine animals so tightly they can’t even turn around. The cages are iron maidens for sows. Not surprisingly, some consumers have responded with anger. “Cruel and senseless” is what the New York Times called the cages. “Torture on the farm,” reported the American Conservative magazine.

This outcry has led major food companies to demand changes. More than 60 of the world’s largest food retailers – McDonald’s, Nestlé, Burger King, Oscar Mayer, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, and dozens more – have announced plans to eliminate gestation crates from their pork-supply chains. Addressing animal welfare in corporate-responsibility programs is becoming the norm. “Active concern about how we treat the world around us has moved from the left of center to the mainstream, and savvy businesses are playing a part,” noted an editorial in Nation’s Restaurant News. “The growing number of animal-welfare-related commitments made by companies large and small reflect well-thought-out business –strategies.”

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“11,000 years before the generally recognised advent of organised cultivation..”

Archaeologists Find Possible Evidence Of Earliest Human Agriculture (Guardian)

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered dramatic evidence of what they believe are the earliest known attempts at agriculture, 11,000 years before the generally recognised advent of organised cultivation. The study examined more than 150,000 examples of plant remains recovered from an unusually well preserved hunter-gatherer settlement on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Previously, scientists had believed that organised agriculture in the Middle East, including animal husbandry and crop cultivation, had begun in the late Holocene period – around 12,000 BC – and later spread west through Europe. The new research is based on excavations at a site known as Ohalo II, which was discovered in 1989 when the water level in the sea of Galilee dropped because of drought and excessive water extraction.

Occupied by a community of hunter-gatherers at the height of the last ice age 23,000 years ago, it revealed evidence of six brush huts with hearths as well as stone tools and animal and plant remains. A series of fortuitous coincidences led to the site’s preservation. The huts had been built over shallow bowls dug by the occupants and later burned. On top of that a deposit of sandy silt had accumulated before the rising lake had left it under 4 metres of water. The study looked for evidence of early types of invasive weeds – or “proto-weeds” – that flourished in conditions created by human cultivation. According to the researchers, the community at Ohalo II was already exploiting the precursors to domesticated plant types that would become a staple in early agriculture, including emmer wheat, barley, pea, lentil, almond, fig, grape and olive.

Significantly, however, they discovered the presence of two types of weeds in current crop fields: corn cleavers and darnel. Microscopic examination of the edges of stone blades from the site also found material that may have been transferred during the cutting and harvesting of cereal plants. Prof Ehud Weiss, head of the archaeological botany lab at the Department of Land of Israel Studies, told the Guardian: “We know what happened ecologically: that these wild plants, some time in history, became weeds. Why? The simple answer is that because humans changed the environment and created new ecological niches, that made it more comfortable for species that would become weeds, meaning they only have to compete with one species.”

According to Weiss, the mixture of “proto-weeds” and grains that would become domesticated mirrors plant findings from later agricultural communities. The site also revealed evidence of rudimentary breadmaking from starch granules found on scorched stones, and that the community may have been largely sedentary, with evidence of consumption of birds throughout the year, including migrating species. “This botanical find is really opening new windows to the past,” Weiss said. “You have to remember Ohalo is a unique preservation. Between Ohalo and the beginning of the Neolithic we have a blank. And when the early Neolithic arrives people start [agriculture again] from scratch.

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